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Mexican on Okla. death row gets clemency

Oklahoma’s governor commuted the death sentence of a convicted murderer from Mexico to life without parole Thursday after an international furor in the case.

Gov. Brad Henry commuted the death sentence of a convicted murderer from Mexico to life without parole Thursday after officials around the world pleaded for him to spare the inmate’s life.

Henry’s decision came the day the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals voted 3-2 to give Osbaldo Torres an indefinite stay of execution. The court granted Torres’ request for a lower court hearing on the state’s failure to inform him of his right to contact the Mexican consulate after his arrest. At issue will be whether the outcome of the case would have been different if he had made this contact.

Torres is one of 51 Mexicans on death row nationwide cited in a March 31 ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands. The world court found the inmates’ rights were violated because they were not told they could receive help from their governments as guaranteed by the 1963 Vienna Convention.

Mexican officials had urged the state to cancel Torres’ execution, which had been set for next Tuesday.

The state Pardon and Parole Board recommended Friday that Henry spare Torres, 29, who was convicted of killing a couple during a 1993 burglary.

The lower-court hearing, which will also examine the issue of ineffective counsel, must be held within 60 days. The trial court must file its findings with the Court of Criminal Appeals within 45 days after the hearing.

Torres and a second man were convicted in 1996 in the deaths of Francisco Morales and Maria Yanez. The couple were shot as they lay in bed in their home.

The state has acknowledged that Torres’ rights under the Vienna Convention were violated. But Charlie Price, a spokesman for Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson, said Torres’ trial was not affected by the violation.

“He still would have been convicted and sentenced,” Price said.

Defense attorney Mark Henricksen argued that the violation was significant.

“Mexico has a demonstrated history, when they receive pre-trial notification, to help ... wherever they can,” Henricksen said. “They’re particularly helpful in providing mitigating evidence, particularly with witnesses and evidence located in Mexico.

“I think I can show that had Mexico known, it’s very likely there would have been a different outcome in this case.”

The Torres family contacted the Mexican consulate only after Torres had been on death row for nearly a year. His parents, who illegally crossed from Mexico into the United States in the mid-1980s, saved their earnings from his father’s welding job and his mother’s cleaning work to pay for their son’s defense.

Mexican Ambassador Carlos de Icaza told the pardon and parole board that besides Torres’ rights being violated, evidence in the case failed to show he committed the murders.

A group of 10 former diplomats, professors and law school faculty have filed legal briefs in support of Torres’ appeal.

Arizona, Arkansas, California, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon and Texas also have Mexicans on death row who fall under the world court ruling.