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Oklahoma governor commutes Mexican's death sentence

World Court said rights violated

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Governor Brad Henry commuted the death sentence of a convicted murderer from Mexico to life without parole yesterday in a case in which state and foreign officials alike said the inmate's life should be spared.

Henry announced his decision as the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals voted, 3 to 2, to give Osbaldo Torres an indefinite stay of execution. The court granted Torres's request for a lower court hearing on the state's failure to inform him of his right to contact the Mexican Consulate after his arrest.

The governor's decision, which makes the appeals court decision moot, was issued after the Pardon and Parole Board recommended clemency for Torres May 7. Torres, who had been scheduled to die Tuesday, was convicted in the 1993 deaths of Francisco Morales and Maria Yanez.

''My heart goes out to the family of Mr. Morales and Ms. Yanez," Henry said in a statement. ''This was a difficult decision, but I believe clemency is warranted by a number of issues involved in this case."

Torres is one of 51 Mexicans on death row nationwide cited in a March 31 ruling by the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands. The World Court found that the inmates' rights were violated because they were not told they could receive help from their governments, as guaranteed by the 1963 Vienna Convention.

Mexican officials urged the state not to execute Torres, and the European Union also asked that the execution be stayed.

Henry said he made his decision after hearing arguments from the state attorney general's office, Torres's appellate defense lawyers, and the victims' relatives.

''It is important to remember that the actual shooter in [these] horrific murders was also sentenced to death and faces execution," Henry said in his statement. ''Osbaldo Torres will spend the rest of his life behind bars for his role in this deplorable crime."

Torres and codefendant George Ochoa were convicted in 1996 in the deaths of Morales and Yanez. Torres has said that he thought he and Ochoa were just going to burglarize a home and that he did not know Ochoa planned to kill anyone. No execution date has been set for Ochoa, who has several appeals pending.

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