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Texas executes illegal immigrant from Honduras
By MICHAEL GRACZYK Associated Press
Aug. 7, 2008, 6:52PM

Heliberto Chi was executed for the 2001 murder of his former boss at an Arlington clothing store.

! HUNTSVILLE An illegal immigrant from Honduras who claimed his treaty rights were violated when he was arrested for a robbery-murder near Dallas was executed Thursday evening.

"God forgive them, receive my spirit," Heliberto Chi said in English. In Spanish, he told a friend watching through a window that he loved him and appreciated his hard work. He appeared to be whispering a prayer in Spanish with a tear at the corner of his right eye as the lethal drugs began to take effect.

One of Chi's cousins, who was among the witnesses, sobbed uncontrollably. Two sons of his victims watched through another window and Chi glanced at them briefly but didn't appear to acknowledge them.

Chi was pronounced dead nine minutes later at 6:25 p.m. CDT.

Lawyers for Chi had claimed in appeals to the U.S. Supreme Court that he should have been told he could get legal assistance from the Honduran consulate when he was arrested in California and extradited to Texas to face charges for killing his former boss, Armand Paliotta, at a men's clothing store during a robbery 7 1/2 years ago. Chi had once worked for Paliotta as a tailor at the store in Arlington, between Dallas and Fort Worth.

The Supreme Court, ruling about 2 1/2 hours before his scheduled execution time, rejected his appeal without dissent.

The arguments in his case, focusing on rights of foreigners under international treaty, were similar to those used unsuccessfully Tuesday by lawyers for condemned Texas prisoner Jose Medellin. In that case, the Supreme Court, with four of the nine justices dissenting, rejected his appeal and the Mexican-born Medellin was executed for participating in the gruesome gang rape and murders of two teenage Houston girls 15 years ago.

Unlike Medellin, Chi was not among some 50 death row inmates around the country, all Mexican born, who the International Court of Justice said should have new hearings in U.S. courts to determine whether the 1963 Vienna Convention treaty was violated during their arrests. Mexico had sued in the court on behalf of its citizens condemned in the U.S.

President Bush asked states to review those cases and legislation to implement the process was introduced recently in Congress, but the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year neither the president nor the international court could force Texas to wait.

Chi's attorneys argued that unlike the Vienna Convention obligations with Mexico, the 1927 U.S. Bilateral Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Consular Rights with Honduras was specifically between the U.S. and Honduras and was self-executing, meaning it didn't require legislation to have effect. They said the treaty also conferred individual rights and incorporated international law into enforceable domestic law.

"There can be little doubt that this issue the proper construction of treaty provisions is sufficiently meritorious to warrant review," Chi's lawyers said in their Supreme Court request for a reprieve.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the state's highest criminal court, late Wednesday rejected a similar appeal.

Chi had visited the suburban Dallas store in 2001, then returned after closing and was let in by Paliotta after saying he'd left his wallet behind. Once inside, he pulled out a gun and demanded a money bag.

Paliotta was shot and killed. Another employee was wounded trying to run away and a third hid among clothing racks and called 911 for help. On a recording of the call played at his trial, Chi can be heard calling the hiding employee, in Spanish, to "Come to the front" of the store.

With police on the way, he fled a few minutes later, jumped into a waiting car and sped off.

He was arrested in Reseda, Calif., northwest of Los Angeles, about six weeks later. His 18-year-old pregnant girlfriend had turned him for assaulting her and told authorities he was wanted for murder in Texas. The couple had been on the run, crisscrossing the country.

Terry O'Rourke, a lawyer on Chi's legal team who teaches international law at Houston's University of St. Thomas, said Chi's guilt wasn't the issue.

"Chi is a murderer, Medellin is a murderer," O'Rourke said. "But we don't kill all murderers. We don't execute all murderers. We do it according to the law.

"When your state violates international law to kill somebody, it has very negative consequences."

Chi was set to die last September, but his execution was stopped because the Supreme Court was looking into whether lethal injection procedures were unconstitutionally cruel. When the justices earlier this year upheld the method as proper, his date was reset for Thursday.

The getaway driver at the murder scene, Hugo Sierra, who is the brother of Chi's girlfriend, is serving a life prison term.

Chi would say little about the crime in an interview with The Associated Press shortly before his then-scheduled execution last year.

"My situation is not about being innocent or guilty," he said. "My rights were violated."

"If it's the Lord's will" and he was executed, Chi said he had "great peace in my mind and soul."

Four other Texas prisoners are set to die this month, including two more next week. They're among at least 15 Texas inmates with execution dates in the coming months.

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