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Texas set to execute Mexican despite diplomatic uproar

The 'death chamber' at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit in Huntsville, Texas on February 29, 2000
The "death chamber" at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit in Huntsville, Texas on February 29, 2000

The US state of Texas was set to execute a Mexican man convicted of murder on Wednesday despite a diplomatic outcry, as his lawyers turned to the US Supreme Court in hopes of a last-minute reprieve.

Edgar Tamayo Arias, 46, was scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection at 6:00 pm (0000 GMT) for the 1994 murder of a policeman in Houston.

His case has sparked widespread protests as Tamayo was not advised of his right to receive consular assistance at the time of his arrest -- in violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

The 1963 treaty, to which 176 nations are party including the United States, sets out how authorities must act when foreign nationals are arrested or detained.

This involves notifying the individuals in question of their right to have their consulate informed of their arrest. They subsequently also have the right to consular assistance.

Tamayo spoke very little English at the time of his arrest and he is mentally handicapped, his lawyers say.

The attorneys have argued he would never have been sentenced to death if the Mexican government had been made aware of his case and been allowed to assist in his legal representation.

"We are continuing to pursue our options for appeal, and vindication of Mr Tamayo's right to review of the consular rights violation in his case," defense attorney Maurie Levin told AFP.

According to documents obtained from the Supreme Court, their 11th hour appeal asks for a stay of execution and a review of the case.

In 2004, the UN's International Court of Justice ordered the United States to provide judicial review of the convictions and sentences of Tamayo and 50 other Mexican nationals who were denied consular assistance.

"There are many other foreign nationals on death row who were denied their consular rights, and some of them may be completely innocent," Mark Warren, of Human Rights Research, told AFP.

"The damage to America's international reputation worsens with each execution, but the solution is simple: just pass a federal law requiring a fair judicial review of these claims."

Mexico has complained bitterly about Tamayo's imminent execution and repeatedly asked for it to be postponed.

Secretary of State John Kerry wrote to Texas Governor Rick Perry late last year asking for a stay and emphasizing the importance of the case on a wider diplomatic level.

But neither Perry nor the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles were swayed.

And a Texas-based federal judge on Tuesday rejected a request for a stay of execution as well as a review of the case.

Judge Lee Yeakel ruled that the Texas parole board had "provided Tamayo adequate due process" in accord with Supreme Court and federal court precedent.

The US government has also renewed pressure on Texas to grant a postponement.

State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said Washington was asking for "a delay in execution, until we can see whether denying him this access -- the consular access he's afforded under the Vienna Convention -- prejudiced the outcome."

"We've made our position very clear that this is an issue that could impact the consular access we get to American citizens overseas who are arrested," Harf said Tuesday.