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January 18, 2008

Murderers, Mexico and the media

The AP has this intriguing new piece about extradition policy and capital punishment headlined "Fleeing to Mexico Thwarts Death Penalty." Here are excerpts:

A methamphetamine dealer who gunned down a deputy during a traffic stop in Southern California.  A man in Arizona who killed his ex-girlfriend's parents and brother and snatched his children.  A man who suffocated his baby daughter and left her body in a toolbag on an expressway overpass near Chicago.

Ordinarily, these would be death penalty cases. But these men fled to Mexico, thereby escaping the possibility of execution.  The reason: Mexico refuses to send anyone back to the United States unless the U.S. gives assurances it won't seek the death penalty — a 30-year-old policy that rankles some American prosecutors and enrages victims' families.

"We find it extremely disturbing that the Mexican government would dictate to us, in Arizona, how we would enforce our laws at the same time they are complaining about our immigration laws," said Barnett Lotstein, special assistant to the prosecutor in Maricopa County, Ariz., which includes Phoenix. "Even in the most egregious cases, the Mexican authorities say, 'No way,' and that's not justice. That's an interference of Mexican authorities in our judicial process in Arizona."

It may be about to happen again: A Marine accused of murdering a pregnant comrade in North Carolina and burning her remains in his backyard is believed to have fled to Mexico.  Prosecutors said they have not decided whether to seek the death penalty.  But if the Marine is captured in Mexico, capital punishment will be off the table.

Fugitives trying to escape the long arm of the law have been making a run for the border ever since frontier days, a practice romanticized in countless Hollywood Westerns.  Mexico routinely returns fugitives to the U.S. to face justice. But under a 1978 treaty with the U.S., Mexico, which has no death penalty, will not extradite anyone facing possible execution. To get their hands on a fugitive, U.S. prosecutors must agree to seek no more than life in prison.

Other countries, including France and Canada, also demand such "death assurances."  But the problem is more common with Mexico, since it is often a quick drive from the crime scene for a large portion of the United States.  "If you can get to Mexico — if you have the means — it's a way of escaping the death penalty," said Issac Unah, a University of North Carolina political science professor.

The Justice Department said death assurances from foreign countries are fairly common, but it had no immediate numbers.  State Department officials said Mexico extradited 73 suspects to the U.S. in 2007. Most were wanted on drug or murder charges.  Lolita Parkinson, a spokeswoman for the Mexican Consulate in Houston, said Mexico opposes capital punishment on human rights grounds and has a particular obligation to protect the rights of people of Mexican descent who face prosecution in the U.S....

Last March, Teri March, the widow of a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who was killed during a traffic stop in 2002, lashed out at Mexico's justice system as Jorge Arroyo Garcia was sentenced to life in prison in California after hiding out in Mexico.  "Garcia hid and hid behind a system that was very broken," she said.

The merits of this article are really interesting, but so is the tone and particulars of some of the quoted particulars.  Specifically, I was struck by how this same kind of article, with the same kind of reactions from victims and some prosecutors, might have been run under the headline "Pleaing to Lesser Charges Thwarts Death Penalty" or "Fleeing to Courts Thwarts Death Penalty." 

Consider, for example, the horrible murders committed by the Green River Killer Gary Ridgway or the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski or notorious torture/killer Charles Ng.  These murderers and many, many others (especially in the Western part of the US) have "thwarted" the death penalty either though plea deals or through extended appeals to state and federal courts.  Like Jorge Arroyo Garcia, these murderers are serving actual or functional life sentences, and I suspect some of the family members of their victims would contend that they have "hid and hid behind a system that was very broken."

January 18, 2008 at 08:32 AM | Permalink


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AP's article is outrageous both in tone and content. As a lawyer working in public international law, I makes me blush. The abolition/ moratorium on the death penalty in the member states of the Council of Europe as well as in Mexico should send a strong message to those states in the US that still apply it.

Only yesterday, the President of the CoE's Parliamentary Assembly addressed Putin urging the ratification of Protocol No 6 to the ECHR prohibiting capital punishment. Russia does not apply the death penalty though it is still "on the books".

Mexico's position is laudable.

Posted by: Francis | Jan 18, 2008 9:22:51 AM

Charles Ng was, in fact, sentenced to death and presently resides on California's death row.

Ted Kaczynski was diagnosed with schizophrenia by the government's own psychiatrist. That is a powerful mitigating circumstance. Whether that outweighs the aggravating is debatable. Personally, I don't think so, but the US Attorney's decision to settle for life in prison is not outside the range of reasonable judgment.

The legalized extortion in the Green River case is indeed outrageous. But what would the bargain have been if Washington did not have the death penalty? Would he have gotten a sentence of less than life for revealing where the bodies were?

Mexico's position is an outrage. It is one more reason to secure this border.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jan 18, 2008 9:58:51 AM

Just to clarify, I do not dispute that the extended appeals in cases like Ng's represent a partial thwarting of the death penalty, and it is a problem that badly needs to be fixed. Enforcing Chapter 154 of 28 U.S.C. would be a good start.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jan 18, 2008 10:04:49 AM

Mexico does not refuse to extradite foreign nationals (i.e. U.S. citizens) wanted in the US for capital offenses. It will not extradite its own citizens. They deport US citizens in their county wanted for crimes in the U.S.

Posted by: David | Jan 18, 2008 10:25:16 AM

Kent, are you saying this is a reason to "secure the border" from US citizens entering Mexico?! That's a new one!

I agree, Doug, you've identified a tonal commonality with other death penalty media coverage. The theme is always, "why can't we kill more, faster, why not, why not?" Any impediment to that goal, apparently, is definitionally "news."

One tonal disconnect as it relates to Mexico: I hear many complaints on the right that Mexico doesn't respect US laws on immigration, so the "outrage" over having to respect Mexico's laws strikes me as a bit Janus-faced, at least when coming from folks who both oppose Mexican immigration and believe Mexico is wrong to require "death assurances." Hi Kent!

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jan 18, 2008 10:31:29 AM

I don't see why Mexico's position is an outrage. It's not a haven for international law breakers, nor is its policy a threat to international public order. It does extradite, it just does so under certain conditions -- just like the United States extradites those within its territory under certain conditions.

Mexico is a sovereign nation. It signed a treaty with the United States that provides for extradition on terms that are consistent with its national self-interest as it understands that concept.

Pro-death types in the U.S. resist and disparage transnational norms regarding the death penalty. Why isn't Mexico entitled to do the same within its territory?

Posted by: dm | Jan 18, 2008 10:32:04 AM

BTW, if you want an outrageous case of disparate justice, add snitching to pleas and appeals as a way the death penalty is "thwarted." Witness the snitch in the Whitey Bulger case, John Martorano, who murdered 20 people, did 12 years in the pen, then was released and given $20K by the government:


By comparison to the NC marine who killed one person - who if Mexico gets its way will "only" get life - Martorano is legitimately a mass murderer, but did just 7 months per victim, then was paid a $1,000 per head bonus on release.

I'm far more "outraged" by that than by Mexico's position.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jan 18, 2008 11:08:30 AM

John Walsh, host of TV's long-running "America's Most Wanted," which plans to devote Saturday's episode to the Marine case, said the delays and death-penalty compromises needed to get fugitives returned can be heartbreaking for victims' families.

I invite you to partake of a little thought experiment. What if John Walsh authored the Federalist Papers at our founding?

The narrative outcome of this thought experiment probably depends on each experimenter's prejudices and biases, and I for one think by the 1940s if not far sooner, we would be speaking German as a national second language.

Posted by: George | Jan 18, 2008 11:24:23 AM

Grits, your comment was insensitive. The murdered Marine was very pregnant.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 18, 2008 11:33:06 AM

Two things come to mind when I read these comments.

First, Lauterbach was 37 weeks pregnant. The child would have been viable. In effect, there were two murders, although North Carolina apparently does not have a fetal homicide statute.

Second, Laurean is a naturalized citizen of the United States. Mexico will still consider him to be a citizen, and may not turn him over at all if they feel there has been a miscarriage of justice. He could also be tried for the crime in a Mexican court and sentenced there. If that happens, he would likely serve 6-7 years and be released. Let me point out that my experience with the Mexican criminal justice system is wholly anecdotal, based on living much of my life in Texas and Arizona.

Posted by: JJ | Jan 18, 2008 12:22:50 PM

Thanks for your contribution, George. John Walsh was presumably interviewed because he has some firsthand knowledge of what it's like to be the family of a murder victim, and a lot of secondhand knowledge from his experience with his television show. As such, he was probably qualified to offer an opinion on how the victims' families often feel about these sorts of things.

I invite you to partake of a little thought experiment. What if John Walsh authored the Federalist Papers at our founding?

That's a pretty stupid thought experiment and has nothing to do with the topic of the post. The point of the Federalist Papers was to convince people to ratify the Constitution, once it had been written. I suppose for your thought experiment you'd have to suppose further that John Walsh understood the Constitution, supported its ratification, lived in the 18th Century, and was good at writing persuasively for an 18th-Century audience. Once you suppose all that, Walsh can't be the host of a long-running TV show about catching criminals, so all you have left is "what if the Federalist Papers had been written by a guy whose son had been murdered by someone who was still on the loose"?

I submit that that's a stupid question and has nothing to do with the topic of the post and even less to do with eugenics or sterilization. Why you insist on placing irrelevant news articles in the comment on this blog is beyond me.

Posted by: | Jan 18, 2008 12:49:08 PM

Grits was not insensitive. Moreover, why does it matter if he was?

Posted by: S.cotus | Jan 18, 2008 1:07:57 PM

He said that the guy only killed one person. The baby inside the mother was very much a person.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 18, 2008 1:14:21 PM

federalist, for YOU to call me insensitive I must really be over the top!

Whether you believe this marine killed one person or two, the issue is whether Martorano's crimes were 20 or only 10 times as bad as the leather-necked Tarheel mentioned in Doug's post. Martorano killed 20 people, none of them fetuses, and got 12 years. Mexico's position is that murderers deserve a max punishment of life.

If it's "insensitive" to observe the disparity, so be it. In context, that doesn't seem like such an "outrage."

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jan 18, 2008 2:22:11 PM

Well, Grits, your casual dismissal of the baby, whether or not you think it a person, qualifies you as insensitive.

Funny how almost to term babies in utero are less worthy of concern to you. Whatever. nice moral compass you have there.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 18, 2008 2:36:11 PM


You're welcome for my contribution. John Walsh was interviewed because he is a media hound and is always good for a good sound bite. He probably has as much influence now as Hamilton, Madison and Jay combined did then, though he has one vote just like you and I and everyone else. So the invitation stands. Feel free to decline to participate if you wish. It would be only a thought experiment after all, though I can't see how anyone could envision an America as we know it had Walsh been so influential in the drafting of our Constitution.

"auf Wiederhören"

Posted by: George | Jan 18, 2008 6:15:17 PM

The most notorious case I know about that fits this topic is that of Ira Einhorn. He was the "gifted" 60s guru who killed his girl friend and put her in a trunk in his closet. The mummified body was found a year later and he was indicted. Ira fled the country and was tried and convicted of the murder in absentia in a Pennsylvania court. He was sentenced to death. Twenty years later he was found living in Switzerland (I think). The US requested his extradition and it was denied because of the death penalty.

Ira had already been tried and convicted and sentenced - what was the solution? Pennsylvania passed a law, probably the Einhorn Law, that was specific to this situation. For all practical purposes, it set aside the first trial and conviction so that he could be tried again and also prohibited the Death Penalty in this case.

Ira Einhorn was only then extradited and in 2002 he was retried and received life in prison. I'm sure this litigation will go on forever, but don't know what appeals there have been.

It is quite common for countries to extradite US citizens to the US with stipulations so that the charges and punishment will fit their understanding of what is just. This does not bother our department of justice as they bring the subject home and then issue a superceding indictment.

Some rumblings are now heard in various sovereign countries about prosecutorial overreach issues in the US.

Posted by: beth curtis | Jan 18, 2008 7:28:09 PM

Mexico is a sovereign country. It can dictate the terms of extradition of anybody in its custody within its territory, either by treaty or on a case-by-case basis. Have we already forgotten the U.S.'s exertion of its own prerogatives to protect a terrorist from extradition?

Posted by: DK | Jan 19, 2008 3:56:51 AM

federalist, it's funny to me how your moral compass causes you to concern yourself more for the fetus than for the 20 walking, talking people Martorano murdered!

You're missing the whole point of the argument because all you seem to care about are the rights of the unborn. There are other issues in the world, amigo.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jan 19, 2008 9:55:52 AM

I don't think my post said that the 20 victims were worth less than the baby, did it?

Posted by: federalist | Jan 19, 2008 12:40:57 PM

Your posts found the 20 victims not even worth comment, federalist, and indeed you didn't address any substantive issue in my argument. All you seem to care about is that the personhood of the unborn be fully recognized in the fashion you prefer, right?

Like I said, there are other issues in the world.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jan 19, 2008 2:38:51 PM

Grits, why is this shifting to me? It was you who wrote that the Marine only killed one person. I was merely pointing out that there were two murdered by him. It doesn't mean I missed your point, nor does it mean I'm insensitive simply because I fail to not the obvious injustice of some guy killing 20 people and getting 12 years. Am I insensitive because I don't note Sammy the Bull skating after all of his murders?

As for addressing the substantive issue of your post, fine, I will. That crooked FBI operations allow some people to get off lightly for multiple murders does not make Mexico's position any more palatable to victims. Your point simply is not germane to the topic at hand.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 20, 2008 10:39:39 AM

"why is this shifting to me?"

Because your arguments had nothing to do with either the post or my position. Your comments federalist, are always and only about you.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jan 21, 2008 8:34:04 AM

Grits, you said that the guy only killed one person. I pointed out how insensitive that was (and it was). I don't see how that opens me up to your lame criticism.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 21, 2008 11:39:01 AM

I know you don't, federalist. I know you don't.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jan 21, 2008 12:31:55 PM

Cute Grits. The bottom line is that no objective reading of my response to your comment can be taken as: (a) challenging the obvious injustice of some guy killing 20 people and getting little time, (b) implying that I care more about 20 people ex utero than I do about one person in utero or (c) invalid, simply because I didn't address the "well there are other things that are worse" line of argument.

You said that there was one person killed. I merely pointed out that it was insensitive. You then criticize me for not caring about the 20 people, which is false and make the silly comment that because I didn't address the thrust of your argument I just don't get it. Whatever. I get it. When someone gets little time for a horrible crime, it is an injustice. But that you are right on that front doesn't mean that the manner in which you make your point wasn't insensitive. And, I might add, your point is quite silly. That the US, a nation of 300 million people, has injustice in its criminal justice system from time to time is, to paraphrase a wise Supreme Court Justice, a truism, not a revelation. It therefore bears little on the rightness or wrongness of Mexico's policy or whether it is outrageous or not. Your argument is an exercise in sophistry.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 21, 2008 1:01:43 PM

federalist, your responses to me had nothing to do with Doug's post, nor with the aspects of my comment that related to Doug's post. Your stated positions, as seemingly in most of these strings, related to your own hobbyhorses, not the issue at hand. That's called "trolling."

Doug's post opined that many things "thwart" the death penalty and that the article on Mexico contained many similarities thematically to other death penalty coverage. I agreed, and pointed out an additional way that the death penalty is routinely "thwarted" that the US system seems to excuse, and in fact where Mexico advocates a harsher penalty for such offenders. You're the only one here that wants to turn this into a debate over whether killing an unborn child is murder of a "person" the way Martorano's murders were. That's surely a reflection of your own priorities, but has little to do with Doug's arguments, or mine. Maybe you should start your own blog.

And while you're dragging this out, stop pretending that your personal bloodthirstiness and desire for maximizing use of the death penalty has anything to do with rights of "victims" - that too, clearly, has more to do with your own psyche than any "victims" on whose behalf you're advocating.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jan 21, 2008 1:24:10 PM

Whatever, Grits. Your original post wandered from the topic. In any event, I simply commented on something I thought insensitive in your post, namely that the almost to term baby did not count as a person. I doubt that violates any blog etiquette to point that out. You then launched into ad hominem attacks.

Face it, Grits, your argument was weak, you inadvertently showed your lack of caring for in utero babies, you got personal and now you're calling me names. Do you always display such a mixture of fuzzy thinking and vituperation?

Posted by: federalist | Jan 21, 2008 2:44:55 PM

You're a legend in your own mind, federalist.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jan 21, 2008 4:25:38 PM

Reduced to insults, Grits? I guess if I were trying to argue that a small handful of cases where murderers cut deals and got absurdly light sentences is relevant to the outrage, if any, of a general policy of a foreign government to interpose its ideas about justice for crimes committed here simply because the accused happened to make it across the border, I might resort to name-calling when I got called out on it too.

Posted by: federalist | Jan 21, 2008 5:41:14 PM

Just bored with your schtick, federalist.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Jan 21, 2008 7:05:34 PM

Looks like someone (wonder who?) is not familiar with the "born alive" rule from the English Common Law which states that until someone is born alive, they are not a person and have no rights. Given that the "born alive" rule was the law of the land in 1789 and few serious legal commentators consider changing it, any arguments that a fetus is a person and thus has any rights at all (including the right to life prior to "quickening" which is where the fetus starts to move) is in direct opposition to the original understanding of the word "person" as used in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment. You are certainty free to argue that modern scientific understanding which wasn't present in 1789 as to the origins of life should lead to a different definition of person and that the preborn are people - but if you do argue that, don't go around complaining about judicial activism because that is as activist as you can get (and you'd find there are all sorts of unintended consequences). Quite simply, under our Constitution, a fetus isn't a person and cannot have the rights of a person, so grits is right and you're wrong. Why do you think that the states need special laws to prevent assaults on pregnant women attempting or causing involuntary abortions?

As for the article, its pure and simple media propaganda. Anyone who has actually read and understood the Cosntitution knows that because the US has a treaty with Mexico on this issue, Mexico is acting in accordance with not only Mexican law, but also international, and American law as well (see the Supremacy Clause). If states don't like it, well, though, they have to follow the treaty. If the victims don't like it, they can vote for people who favor repealing that treaty, but no serious politician is going to risk alienating a major trading partner over whether someone will be (theorectically) killed rather than kept in prison for life.

Posted by: Zack | Jan 25, 2008 1:01:25 PM

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