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Illegal immigrant from Honduras facing execution
Wed Aug 6, 2008 6:32pm (XFF: unknown)

Illegal immigrant from Honduras facing execution
By MICHAEL GRACZYK Associated Press Writer © 2008 The Associated Press
Aug. 6, 2008, 11:33AM

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — When Heliberto Chi showed up at a men's clothing
store in suburban Dallas, he was a familiar face because he'd once
worked there as a tailor.

And when he returned after closing time the same evening to say he'd
left his wallet behind, his former boss, Armand Paliotta, let him in.

Then Chi pulled a gun.

By the time he fled with a money bag, Paliotta was shot dead and
another employee had been shot and wounded. A third employee, an
assistant manager, hid beneath a rack of clothes, called 911 and left
the phone line open. Chi's voice was captured on tape as he hunted
for the hiding assistant manager, urging her in Spanish to "Come to
the front" of the store.

He jumped into a waiting car as police were en route to the Arlington
store. The tape would be played for jurors at Chi's capital trial,
where he was convicted and condemned.

Chi, 29, was set for execution Thursday evening. He'd be the second
convicted murderer executed in Texas this week.

"Not only was there eyewitness testimony, but that assistant manager
got out a 911 call, and you could hear Chi in the background on the
phone," said Mick Meyer, a former Tarrant County assistant district
attorney who prosecuted Chi. "It was pretty solid evidence right there."

Witnesses said when Paliotta, 56, shoved the gun-wielding Chi and
started running, he was fatally shot. An 18-year-old store employee
also tried to run and was shot. He would recover and testify against

"Armand was a beautiful soul, a beautiful, beautiful man," his wife,
Acela Paliotta, told The Dallas Morning News this week. "He lives
inside of me. He loved to help people. There are many friends who
have been affected. My husband never would have hurt anyone. He only
wanted to help people."

Last September, Chi was spared from execution when the Texas Court of
Criminal Appeals stopped his scheduled punishment after the U.S.
Supreme Court agreed to consider whether lethal injection procedures
were unconstitutionally cruel. When the Supreme Court earlier this
year upheld the method as proper, his date was reset for Thursday.

Chi, from Honduras, was in the United States illegally at the time of
Paliotta's 2001 slaying. Lawyers for the Central American country
said Chi was unable to contact anyone from his government, a
violation of an international treaty, after he was arrested in
California and extradited to Texas.

It's an argument similar to the one raised earlier this week by
another condemned Texas prisoner, Mexican-born Jose Medellin, who was
executed late Tuesday night for his part in a gruesome gang rape-
slayings of two teenage Houston girls 15 years ago.

Unlike Medellin, Chi was not among some 50 death row inmates around
the country, all Mexican born, who the International Court of Justice
said should have new hearings in U.S. courts to determine whether the
1963 Vienna Convention treaty was violated during their arrests.

President Bush asked states to review the cases and legislation to
implement the process was introduced recently in Congress, but the
Supreme Court ruled earlier this year neither the president nor the
international court could force Texas to wait. State attorneys had
argued against a punishment delay, saying there was no certainty the
legislation ever would pass.

A divided high court agreed, and Medellin's punishment was carried
out, making him the fifth inmate executed this year in the nation's
busiest capital punishment state.

While Medellin's case was being considered Tuesday by the Supreme
Court, a state judge in Tarrant County refused a request from Chi's
lawyer, Wes Ball, to withdraw Chi's execution date until legislation
was enacted to formalize procedures for reviews of capital cases
involving foreign nationals.

Chi would say little about the crime in an interview with The
Associated Press shortly before his execution date last year.

"My situation is not about being innocent or guilty," he said, saying
only that his trial was unfair. "My rights were violated. I'm a
Christian. I know about the Lord. If it's the Lord's will, things
happen. I have great peace in my mind and soul."

He said he slipped into the United States through Vancouver, in
Canada, and had "three kids here, maybe more."

"I'm not sure," he said.

Chi was arrested in Reseda, Calif., northwest of Los Angeles, about
six weeks after the robbery and shootings when his 18-year-old
pregnant girlfriend turned him for assaulting her. The couple had
been on the run for 43 days, crisscrossing the country from Iowa to
Minnesota to West Virginia and eventually to California. Authorities
said at the time of the arrest, they had been planning to flee to

His girlfriend's brother, Hugo Sierra, is serving a life prison term
for being Chi's getaway driver at the clothing store.

"He was identified by survivors, he had fled Texas, which is not
particularly helpful," Bill Harris, who was one of Chi's trial
lawyers, said. "He never was willing to acknowledge he committed the
crime. We really didn't have evidence to put on."

Other evidence showed he had gotten into fights while in jail
awaiting trial, wrote on his cell walls that he'd converted to
Satanism and scuffled with a bailiff in the courtroom during a break
in his trial.

Four other prisoners are set to die this month, including two more
next week. They're among at least 15 Texas inmates with execution
dates in the coming months.

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