News Articles

Treaty concerns prompted Rankin to urge against death penalty

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Mario Murphy, a 25-year-old Mexican, was executed Sept. 17 for the 1991 slaying of a Navy cook in Virginia Beach, Va., despite appeals by the Mexican government — and the Southern Baptist International Mission Board’s president, Jerry Rankin.
A copy of a Sept. 11 letter from Rankin to Virginia Gov. George Allen was given to the Richmond, Va., Times-Dispatch by one of Murphy’s lawyers.
“Although I am a supporter of capital punishment because I believe it is biblical and an effective deterrent of crime,” Rankin wrote, “I am writing in support of the Petition for Clemency filed … in behalf of Mario Murphy.”
Rankin noted he is “horrified to think of the potential repercussions in Mexico and other countries, and its potential harm to our missionaries” that could result from Virginia failing to honor obligations of the Vienna Convention.
The treaty, ratified by the United States in 1969, requires foreign nationals be given a chance to contact their consul when arrested.
According to the Times-Dispatch, Virginia officials have conceded Murphy apparently was not told he had a right to contact his consul — but, they have pointed out, he never asked. Murphy’s lawyers countered that it is the arresting country’s responsibility to make sure the defendant is notified of his right under the treaty, the newspaper reported.
The U.S. State Department said in a letter to Allen Sept. 16 that it will apologize to the Mexican government, the Times-Dispatch also reported.
David R. Andrews of the Department of State’s legal adviser’s office wrote, “We will convey to the Embassy of Mexico on behalf of the government of the United States our deepest regrets over the apparent failure to provide Mr. Murphy with consular notification.”
Murphy was put to death by lethal injection shortly after 9 p.m. Sept. 17 at Virginia’s Greensville Correctional Center for the 1991 murder-for-hire killing of James Radcliff, a Navy cook in Virginia Beach.
Allen was asked about Rankin’s letter at an impromptu news conference Sept. 16. “It’s an argument and a letter that I read very carefully,” he responded. “I’m not going to share my answer to him with you.”
Nevertheless, Allen said that if U.S. citizens abroad were in danger, the U.S. State Department “would weigh in.” He also disputed whether it was Virginia’s responsibility to notify Murphy of his Vienna Convention right.
Rankin, meanwhile, wrote, “While we assume none of our missionaries would be guilty of a capital crime, such as that to which Mario Murphy has confessed, they and their dependents are occasionally involved in situations that subject them to the justice system of their country of residence.”
He noted, “I would not attempt to diminish the tragic and reprehensible crime to which Mario Murphy has confessed to committing … . However, I trust you will recognize the implications of allowing a foreign citizen to be executed without having had access to an international agreement on which we depend to protect the interests and safety of Americans, including our missionaries, traveling overseas.”
The Times-Dispatch quoted Bonnie Goldstein, a legal adviser to the Mexican government on death penalty cases, as saying, “Mexico’s concerned about the plight of a Mexican national. They’ve been very concerned about the nationals that are on death row in our country — there are 35.”
The Mexican government also is concerned with protecting “a nation’s right to be notified of the plight of their national at a moment in time when it actually can do some good,” Goldstein said.

    About the Author

  • Frank Green