Court ruling may put executions on indefinite hold

This story touches on quite a few perennial themes: Crime and punishment, overlawyering, immigration. I suppose we’ll start with the first of those. Here’s the crime.

In 2001, Armand Paliotta was working at the K&G Men’s Superstore in southwest Arlington. Chi had worked at the store as an assistant tailor, but had been fired, former employees said.

The young man stopped by the store twice on March 24, according to court documents. During his first visit, he chatted with some of the employees, stayed about 30 minutes, then left.

He returned as Paliotta and two other employees were ready to leave for the night. Chi told them that he was missing his wallet, which he might have left in the store when he had stopped by earlier, said Adrian Riojas, who had started working at the store seven months earlier.

Paliotta let him inside to look.

Chi went to the back of the store, then returned and asked whether he could stay to search for it, Riojas said. Paliotta he would have to come back the next day, Riojas said.

Chi then pulled out a handgun and told the employees to get back inside the store, Riojas said. As the three employees tried to escape, running in different directions, Chi shot Paliotta in the back. Then he found Riojas in the storeroom and shot him.

Chi couldn’t find the third employee, a woman, and left in a getaway car driven by Hugo Alejandro Sierra, who is serving a life sentence for his role in the killing.

At first, Riojas said he felt hot. He pulled off his blood-covered jacket and thought, “I don’t feel anything, how could I be shot?” He took off his shirt, touched the bullet wound and then ran to the phone to call 911. An operator was on the line; the female employee had already dialed.

Chi is Heliberto Chi, a Honduran national who after attempting to commit triple murder is alive and well and seeking pen pals from death row. Through his lawyer, he’s also attempting to prove that lethal injection amounts to cruel and unusual punishment, and it’s this argument that may put all US executions on indefinite hold.

Signaling an indefinite halt to executions in Texas, the state’s highest criminal appeals court late Tuesday stayed the lethal injection of a 28-year-old Honduran man who was scheduled to be put to death Wednesday…

Acting less than a week after it rejected another inmate’s appeal 5 to 4, the appeals court justices provided no breakdown of the vote and did not give any reasoning for their decision. But they directed the state’s director of criminal justice, Nathaniel Quarterman, not to execute Mr. Chi and gave Mr. Quarterman and Tim Curry, the district attorney of Tarrant County, where the crime had been committed, up to 30 days to respond to claims by Mr. Chi’s lawyers that the formulation and administration of chemicals used for lethal injections did not quickly and painlessly kill but paralyzed the condemned inmates while they painfully suffocated.

Mr. Chi didn’t take Mr. Paliotta’s suffering into consideration. Or perhaps he did and factored it into his plan. The murder was premeditated and stemmed from Chi’s firing.

Lost in all of this is the fact that Chi isn’t a US citizen, has been convicted of violent crime, and is therefore deportable. Predictably, Honduras evidently doesn’t want Chi, but it does want him kept alive.

AUSTIN — The Honduran citizen who is set to die Wednesday for killing an Arlington store manager should be spared from execution until the U.S. Supreme Court decides whether lethal injection inflicts undue suffering, Honduras’ ambassador said Friday.

Ambassador Roberto Flores visited Austin on behalf of Heliberto Chi a day after the high court halted the execution of Carlton Turner Jr. Turner’s attorneys argued that he shouldn’t be put to death before the high court rules on lethal injections.

Flores said it makes no sense to spare one inmate but not another.

“This execution should be stopped,” he said. “We are requesting justice for Honduras and mercy for Mr. Chi.”

Mercy for Chi’s victims is not on the agenda.

Beyond all of this, are the implications of Chi invoking international law to get his execution stayed.

The Honduran Counsel General recorded an interview with Chi on death row.

“When I was extradited to the city of Fort Worth, Texas, I was asking if I could communicate,” Chi said.

Houston attorney Terry O’Rourke has been hired by the Honduran government to make a last-minute appeal.

“They should have called the consulate in California and said we got your guy. We’re going to extradite him to Texas. The consulate could have made a decision there,” O’Rourke said.

Honduran officials are flying into Houston Thursday night to meet with O’Rourke.

On Friday, they will go to Austin for meetings with the governor’s staff and the board of pardons and paroles.

What they’re asking for is simple.

“Just don’t kill him in violation of international law. That’s all,” O’Rourke said.

Predictably, there are vigils for Chi promoted alongside “Islam 101” classes on the local liberal online watering hole. And I’d say that, predictably, Texas will have to come up with a new formula for its lethal injections. And just as predictably, the US taxpayer gets to foot the bill for incarcerating a man who by all rights ought to be in another country’s jails. If Honduras wants Chi alive, they ought to accept him back and keep him in jail on their own dime for the rest of his life.

All in all, the case of Heliberto Chi is a frustrating one.

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