Paraguayan man’s execution is wrong

Virginia Gov. James S. Gilmore III flagrantly took the law of nations into his own hands when he allowed the execution of Angel Francisco Breard one week ago today. Gilmore’s actions not only conflicted with an international treaty, but also went against a ruling by the World Court authorities and appeals from Paraguayan officials and U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. While Gilmore justified the execution’s timeliness as a way to guarantee “the safety of the people of Virginia,” his actions placed the lives of more Americans in danger.
Although officials from the United States and Paraguay don’t contest that Breard is guilty of killing Ruth Dickie, 39, in Virginia in 1992, arguments ensue on whether the death penalty could have been avoided. Breard, a 32-year-old Paraguayan citizen, was not told about his right to speak to his country’s consular officials after his arrest. This violated a basic tenet of the 1963 Vienna Treaty, an international agreement aimed at protecting a country’s citizens on foreign soil. It took four years before Breard was aware of his rights.
Had he been aware of his rights, some say the execution could have been avoided. Prosecutors offered Breard a plea bargain that would have sent him to jail for life. However, Paraguayan prosecutors seldom make such offers. So Breard turned the offer down and plead guilty on his own. Paraguayan consulate officials say they would have advised Breard to take the deal. Gilmore called for executing Breard because he said the citizens of Virginia felt they were in danger as long as Breard was alive and in the state. Gilmore’s decision to go ahead with the execution was backed by the U.S. Supreme Court and Attorney General Janet Reno. The court argued that the outcome of the decision would have been the same despite the treaty violation.
Donald Curry, assistant to Virginia’s attorney general, backed Gilmore’s controversial decision. He argued that Breard’s appeal would have made the Supreme Court look subservient to the World Court. However, a treaty signed by the United States and 160 countries should be the overriding document in such a case. Gilmore’s interpretation that state sovereignty is an exclusive power separate from all others has more to do with state power-grabbing than with public safety.
Article VI of the Constitution declares treaties to be “the supreme law of the land.” This means that when the commonwealth of Virginia stands opposed to the Vienna Treaty, the treaty should win. Virginia’s leaders should follow these rules, even if the Supreme Court won’t. Instead, Gilmore has infuriated the international community. Other countries can’t be sure that their citizens’ rights will be respected in the United States. This also jeopardizes American citizens detained in other countries. The harm Gilmore did to Americans’ safety abroad outweighs any public safety gains from killing a man who would have spent his life in prison anyway. In Breard’s case, the lust for blood proved stronger than respect for the law, reason and public welfare.