startled Aldape Guerra mumbled to reporters, “I’m not a legend, I’m not Pancho Villa. I’m here by accident….” \(In a final grim coincidence, Aldape Guerra departed by accident as well. He was killed August 21 in an automobile collision, near Matahuala, San Luis Potosi, en route to According to human rights groups, there re” thirty-five Mexican citizens currently housed on U.S. death rows twenty of them lacking legal representation. Mexicans represent only 1 percent of the more than 3,000 prisoners on death row in the U.S., but they account for more than half of the number of condemned foreign citizens. On the evening following Suarez Medina’s scheduled Texas execution, Mario Murphy is slated to be executed in Virginia. Also upcoming: the execution of Ramon Martinez Villareal by the state of Arizona. Martinez, at fifty-three the oldest Mexican prisoner awaiting death in the U.S., has an IQ of 64, and is considered mentally ill by medical doctors and his own family. The Durango native was convicted in a 1983 house robbery/double murder twenty-five miles north of the Nogales border. As in many such cases \(including that partner turned state’s evidence and was freed. Martinez narrowly escaped execution last June. Another Mexican imprisoned in Arizona was not so lucky; in July, Ascensi6n Perez, lodged in the Nogales jail while facing the death penalty for a kidnapmurder, hung himself from the bars. Mexicans on U.S. death rows mirror the map of their migrations north. A pair of Mexicans languish on Illinois’ death row, and there are Mexicans awaiting execution in Oregon and Ohio, Nevada and North Carolina. But the bulk of death row prisoners are to be found in the big migration states. Thirteen Mexicans are on death row at California’s San Quentin prison. A fourteenth Mexican may soon join them Francisco Covarrubias, the twenty-yearold driver of a truckful of migrant workers, eight of whom were killed during a southern California chase by immigration offi: cers in April 1996. The youth faces the death penalty under enhanced powers now available to prosecutors, for fatalities occurring in connection with immigrant smuggling cases. The stories of the twelve Mexicans currently held at the Huntsville Ellis Unit yield unavoidable conclusions. Most committed when very youngSuarez Medina was only nineteen when he was accused of killing an undercover narcotics officer in Dallas. Even those prisoners who have served the longest stretches in Huntsville were convicted of homicides committed in their early twenties, and often under the influence of drugs or alcohol. All are poor, from large families, and most are natives of border states who crossed illegally into the U.S. to find work. At the age of fifteen, for instance, Aldape Guerra sold his bicycle to raise enough carfare to get to Texas, and Tristan Montoya never attended grade school, instead selling oranges on the street to support his family. “These are young men who are abandoned by their government until they are literally at death’s door,” observes Arturo Solis, a Reynosa Tamaulipas human rights worker. Solis accuses the Mexican government of not intervening in capital cases “until it is too late.” An organizer of Tristan Montoya’s cortege through Tamaulipas, Solis described Mexico City’s apparent public efforts to save the convicted killer as “nothing but propaganda.” Yet despite the nationalist outrage at the frequent application of the death penalty in the U.S., there is now a certain growing sentiment for the re-institution of capital punishment in Mexico. The death penalty remains on the books here, for such crimes as arson, patricide, pre-meditated murder, and treason, but was removed from state penal codes in 1970 and frozen by the federal government. Military courts retain capital punishment as an option for serious crimes, and there have been demands within the army for the death penalty to be imposed upon Brigadier General Jesds Gutierrez Rebollo, Mexico’s former drug czar, accused of being in the employ of the late narco lord, Amado Carrillo. The escalating violent crime rate has encouraged the crusade to revive the death penalty. Two to four homicides are committed in Mexico City every day \(about 1,400 out of the 6,000-7000 committed anmand for vengeance has grown. Recently formed victims’ groups are organizing marches and petition drives, and taking out newspaper ads advocating the return of capital punishment. On the other hand, Javier Ruiz de Velasco is so appalled by such talk that he has taken to hanging himself, once a month, from a palm tree in front of the U.S. embassy. The startling apparition of the young man, clad in a Virgin of Guadalupe t-shirt, dangling stop traffic. “The state’s role is to respect life, not kill life. Capital punishment is statelicensed homicide,” Ruiz tells a U.S. reporter. “We’re against it for everyone, not just Mexicans. But the fact that the United States has sentenced Javier Suarez to death on our most sacred patriotic holiday is an insult that Mexicans cannot disregard…. 11 John Ross reports regularly from Mexico City for the Observer and other U.S. publications. SEPTEMBER 12, 1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19
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