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Court clears way for another immigrant's execution
Thu Aug 7, 2008 8:13pm (XFF: unknown)

Court clears way for another immigrant's execution
By MICHAEL GRACZYK 2 hours ago

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) An illegal immigrant from Honduras who claimed his treaty rights were violated when he was arrested for a robbery and murder lost his appeal Thursday at the U.S. Supreme Court, clearing the way for his execution.

In the second case of its kind this week in Texas, lawyers for condemned killer Heliberto Chi went to the nation's highest court claiming Chi should have been told he could get legal assistance from the Honduran consulate. He was arrested in California and extradited to Texas to face charges for killing his former boss at a men's clothing store during a robbery more than seven years ago.

Chi, 29, was scheduled for lethal injection for the fatal shooting of Armand Paliotta. Chi had once worked for Paliotta as a tailor at the store in Arlington, between Dallas and Fort Worth.

The Supreme Court, ruling less than three hours before Chi's scheduled execution time, rejected his appeal without dissent.

The arguments in his case, focusing on rights of foreigners under international treaty, were similar to those used unsuccessfully Tuesday by lawyers for condemned Texas prisoner Jose Medellin. In that case, the Supreme Court, with four of the nine justices dissenting, rejected his appeal, and the Mexican-born Medellin was executed for participating in the gang rape and murder of two teenage Houston girls 15 years ago.

Unlike Medellin, Chi was not among about 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. Mexico had sued in the court on behalf of its citizens condemned in the U.S.

President Bush asked states to review those 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.

Chi's attorneys argued that unlike the Vienna Convention obligations with Mexico, the 1927 U.S. Bilateral Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Consular Rights with Honduras was specifically between the U.S. and Honduras. They also argued it was self-executing, meaning it didn't require legislation to have effect. And they said the treaty also conferred individual rights and incorporated international law into enforceable domestic law.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest criminal court, rejected a similar appeal late Wednesday.

Chi had visited the suburban Dallas store in 2001, then returned after closing and was let in by Paliotta after saying he had left his wallet behind. Once inside, he pulled out a gun and demanded a money bag.

Paliotta was shot and killed. Another employee was wounded trying to run away, and a third hid among clothing racks and called 911 for help. On a recording of the call played at his trial, Chi can be heard calling the hiding employee, in Spanish, to "come to the front" of the store.

Chi fled, jumped into a waiting car and sped off.

He was arrested in Reseda, Calif., northwest of Los Angeles, about six weeks later. His 18-year-old pregnant girlfriend had turned him for assaulting her and told authorities he was wanted for murder in Texas. The couple had been on the run, criss-crossing the country.

Terry O'Rourke, a lawyer on Chi's legal team who teaches international law at Houston's University of St. Thomas, said Chi's guilt wasn't the issue.

"Chi is a murderer; Medellin is a murderer," O'Rourke said. "But we don't kill all murderers. We don't execute all murderers. We do it according to the law.

"When your state violates international law to kill somebody, it has very negative consequences."

Chi was set to die in September, but his execution was stopped because the Supreme Court was looking into whether lethal injection procedures were unconstitutionally cruel. When the justices this year upheld the method as proper, his date was reset for Thursday.

The getaway driver at the murder scene, Hugo Sierra, who is the brother of Chi's girlfriend, is serving a life prison term.

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

"My situation is not about being innocent or guilty," he said. "My rights were violated."

"If it's the Lord's will" and he was executed, Chi said he had "great peace in my mind and soul."

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