WASHINGTON (AP) _ Rarely since the United States reinstated the death penalty a quarter-century ago has a condemned foreigner received consular help from his government before reaching death row.
Only four of 123 foreigners who have been on America's death row were promptly told they could seek help from their consulates, death penalty watchdog groups say. Such failures violate a treaty that also helps U.S. citizens abroad.
In the latest case, Oklahoma has delayed the execution of Gerardo Valdez, a Mexican-born convicted murderer who sat on death row for more than a decade before his consulate learned of his fate.
``We believe Mr. Valdez has to pay for what he did,'' said Miguel Monterubio, a Mexican Embassy spokesman. But he added: ``Had we known about this, we would have had a better defense for him and we are sure that he would not have been sentenced to death.''
Foreigners detained by U.S. authorities must be told ``without delay'' that they can seek consulate help, according to the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Death penalty groups say authorities often fail to tell defendants for months, even years.
At least 97 foreigners currently await execution in the United States, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Since 1976, at least 15 have been executed; three were freed after appeals or retrials and eight had their death sentences overturned on appeal, said Amnesty International's Mark Warren, who compiles the statistics.
The treaty also protects the roughly 2,500 Americans detained abroad each year.
The United States signed the Vienna agreement mainly to protect its citizens in eastern Europe, said international law professor John Quigley of Ohio State University.
``The United States was fairly aggressive about getting strong protections written into it,'' he said. ``Now it's being used mostly against the United States because many other countries have implemented it to a much greater degree.''
When a U.S. spy plane made an emergency landing on a Chinese island earlier this year, President Bush cited the Vienna treaty when demanding U.S. consular visits to the plane's crew.
Five months earlier, when Bush was still governor of Texas, Swedish, French and European Union diplomats asked him to stop the execution of Miguel Flores. They argued that the Mexican-born convicted murderer, who died by injection last November, was not granted consular rights until he appealed his death sentence.
Last month, the International Court of Justice ruled that the United States violated the Vienna treaty in the case of Karl and Walter LaGrand, two German brothers executed in 1999.
The LaGrands were convicted of murdering a bank manager during a botched 1982 robbery in Arizona. A decade passed before the German consulate learned of the case.
The court ruling avoided making a judgment on whether capital punishment is legal or moral but highlighted growing U.S.-European tensions over the death penalty. The European Union has abolished capital punishment among its member states.
United States has promised better compliance with the treaty and has received high marks for improvement. During the past 3 1/2 years, the State Department has overseen training programs in 34 cities and mailed more than 93,000 brochures and 400,000 pocket cards to educate police forces about the treaty and help avoid future violations.
Legal and human rights groups say ignorance is to blame for a lack of U.S. compliance with the treaty.
``It's foreign law. Who reads international treaties?'' said Richard Dieter, the Death Penalty Information Center's executive director.
In Oklahoma, Gov. Frank Keating issued a 30-day stay to Valdez _ until July 16 _ after Mexican President Vicente Fox called to ask that Valdez's death sentence be commuted to life without the possibility of parole.
The details in the case are not in debate: Valdez admitted killing Juan Barron in April 1989 after Barron made advances toward him in a bar. Valdez took Barron home, preached that the Bible condemned homosexuality, and shot him twice in the head. Valdez then burned his victim's body.
Valdez's lawyer had never before tried a death penalty case. He also failed to search for any mitigating factors _ like brain damage from numerous childhood accidents, said Sandra Babcock, director of the Mexican Legal Assistance Program.
Like other foreigners detained in America, Valdez didn't know to seek consulate help, she said. And officials have no incentive to comply with the treaty because state and federal courts so far have refused to punish violators.
Keating is reviewing the World Court ruling in the LaGrand case in Arizona and plans to meet Tuesday with attorneys on both sides of the Valdez case.