Jose Ernesto Medellin, 33, was executed by lethal injection on 5 August 2008 in Huntsville, Texas for the rape and murder of two teenage girls.
Elizabeth Pena, 16, and Jennifer Ertman, 14, spent the evening of 24 June 1993 at the swimming pool of a friend's apartment complex in Houston. As their midnight curfew approached, they debated the fastest route to Pena's home. They decided to follow the railroad tracks through a city park.
That same evening, eight young men were in the park participating in a gang initiation ritual. Raul Villareal, 17, was being initiated into the Black and White gang. The other gang members present were Medellin, Derrick O'Brien, and Peter Cantu - all 18 - Efrain Perez, 17, and Roman Sandoval. Frank Sandoval and Vernancio Medellin, 14, brothers of two of the gang members, were also present. The initiation consisted of Villareal fighting each of the other gang members for several minutes. Following this ritual, they drank beer.
At about 11:30 p.m., the two girls walked by. As they passed, Jose Medellin tried to talk to Pena. When she tried to run away, he grabbed her and dragged her down a hill. She screamed for help. Ertman ran back and tried to help Pena, but O'Brien and Cantu grabbed her and dragged her down the hill as well. At this point, the Sandoval brothers decided to leave. The remaining boys then raped both girls for more than an hour before beating and strangling them. They left their bodies in the woods.
Afterward, Medellin, Cantu, Villereal, and Perez met at Cantu's house, where he lived with his brother and sister-in-law, Joe and Christina Cantu. Christina noticed that Villereal was bleeding and that Perez had blood on his shirt and asked them what happened. Medellin replied that they "had fun" and that their activities would be seen on the TV news. He boasted to Joe and Christina that he had met two girls, that he punched one of them because she screamed when he grabbed her, and that he raped them. He also said that they killed the girls so that they could not identify their attackers. He described using his shoelaces to strangle the girls, and stepping on their necks to make sure they died. The boys also divided up the money and jewelry they took from the girls, Cantu gave Medellin a ring with an "E" on it, to give to his girlfriend, Esther.
Four days later, Christina Cantu convinced her husband to report the incident to the police. He led them to the girls' bodies, which were decomposing rapidly in the sweltering Houston summer heat. Each of the boys involved was arrested. Medellin admitted his role in the murders in a callous, boastful tone. When O'Brien was arrested, he confessed that he and the other gang members raped both of the girls. He also described how he and Jose Medellin strangled Ertman. They wrapped his red nylon belt around her neck, then he pulled at one end while Medellin pulled at the other, until the belt snapped in two. The belt was found in a search of O'Brien's apartment.
The medical examiner testified that, in addition to both girls being raped and strangled, Ertman had three fractured ribs, and Pena had one tooth that was fractured and several that were missing, indicating that she had been punched or kicked in the mouth.
Medellin had been previously arrested and charged as a juvenile for illegally carrying a weapon.
A jury convicted Medellin of the capital murder of Elizabeth Pena in September 1994 and sentenced him to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the conviction and sentence in October 2001.
Four of the other assailants that night were also convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death. Derrick O'Brien was executed in July 2006, apologizing for the crime in his last statement. Peter Cantu, who reports describe as the leader of the gang, remains on death row. Raul Omar Villareal and Efrain Perez had their sentences commuted to life in June 2005 because they were 17 at the time of the crime. A sixth assailant, Vernancio Medellin, who was 14 at the time, was convicted of aggravated sexual assault and sentenced to 40 years in prison. He remains in custody as of this writing. No information was available on the disposition or status of Roman or Frank Sandoval.
Medellin's case came under international scrutiny because he was a Mexican citizen. According to the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, a treaty signed by the United States and 165 other nations, foreign citizens must be informed of their consular rights - that is, their right to seek assistance from consular officials from their home countries - whenever they are arrested. Medellin was not informed of his consular rights at the time of his arrest. Prosecutors have said he never informed authorities of his nationality, but Medellin insisted that he told them at the time of his arrest.
In 2004, Mexico filed a lawsuit against the United States in the United Nations' world court over the denial of Medellin's consular rights. In response, President Bush issued a memorandum ordering Texas to hold hearings for Medellin and dozens of other inmates. In November 2006, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that Bush's order did not constitute binding federal law, and dismissed Medellin's appeal. The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the Texas courts' position. Governor Rick Perry also argued that the states are not bound by the rulings of international courts and that Texas is determined to hold killers responsible for their crimes, regardless of their nationality.
Medellin granted few interviews while on death row. In a letter he wrote that was posted on a Canadian anti-death-penalty site, he referred to the murders that sent him to death row as "an adolescent choice."
Medellin was visited by his parents the day before his execution. They returned for another visit the next day. Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said they were barred from the prison after the second visit because they were overheard plotting an escape for Medellin.
Medellin's execution was delayed nearly four hours as the U.S. Supreme Court considered one last appeal.
"I'm sorry that my actions brought you pain," Medellin said to his victims' families in his last statement. I hope this brings you the closure that you seek." He also expressed love to his witnesses. The lethal injection was then started. He was pronounced dead at 9:57 p.m.
The Pena and Ertman families were instrumental in getting Texas law changed so that victims' relatives are allowed to make statements at a trial's conclusion and to witness the execution of their loved ones' killers. According to Andy Kahan, crime victims advocate for Houston Mayor Bill White, 75 percent of victims' families elect to witness executions.
By David Carson. Posted on 6 August 2008.
Sources: Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Texas Attorney General's office, Associated Press, Houston Chronicle, Huntsville Item, court documents.