Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Malaysian court affirms Mexican brothers' death sentence

Sinaloans convicted of narcotics offenses move one step closer to the gallows

Kuala Lumpur -
Malaysia's Court of Appeals, the second highest tribunal in the southeast Asian nation, this afternoon upheld the death sentences for drug manufacturing and possession imposed on three Mexican brothers in May 2012.

Jose Regino Gonzalez Villarreal, 37, Simon Gonzalez Villarreal, 34, and Luis Alfonso Gonzalez Villarreal, 48, are from the western state of Sinaloa on Mexico's Pacific coast. With two others, they were arrested and charged in March 2008 with manufacturing and possessing methamphetamine and precursor chemicals, and narcotics trafficking. The men were detained only a few weeks after arriving in Malaysia. They had worked in a Mexican brick factory before moving in search of better jobs, their families said. Sinaloa, the brothers' home, is a hotbed of Mexican drug cartel activity and has been the scene of extreme narco violence in recent years.

The men are the first Mexicans ever to be sentenced to hang under the draconian Malaysian criminal code, which has been frequently criticized by western nations. Their two co-defendants are also under death sentence. One is Malaysian and the other is from Singapore.

Defense attorneys had challenged forensic test results of the chemicals which were seized when the men were detained, and complained that more than a third of the materials disappeared while in police custody, preventing analysis of the evidence. They also objected to the man who presided over the trial, known as Malaysia's "hanging judge" for the more than 100 death sentences he's imposed. Those arguments were turned down in a separate interlocutory appeal to Malaysia's Federal Court, one rung above the Court of Appeals, in December 2011, and will likely prove unsuccessful again.

At the men's trial in February 2012 government prosecutors presented evidence that they were in possession of 29 kilos of methamphetamine when arrested in a shipyard warehouse, together with drug manufacturing equipment. The Mexicans testified that they had been hired to clean trash from the area where the contraband was discovered and were unaware of the drugs, but forensic and DNA testing indicated traces of the chemicals on their clothing and bodies. Because of the missing meth the defense had demanded the entire case be dismissed, an argument which the trial judge rejected.

Authorities said the drugs had an estimated street value of millions of dollars.

With little elaboration three Court of Appeals judges upheld the findings of guilt and death sentences, saying they were based on convincing evidence presented at trial. Malaysian law allows for no other punishment in such cases.

Criminal trials in the former British crown colony are conducted in accord with English common law traditions and precedent. They resemble American and Canadian judicial proceedings, with many constitutional protections. But they are not identical, juries are not used and some legal authorities contend that Malaysian courts are not sufficiently independent from other governmental institutions.

Malaysian drug trafficking laws are among the most severe in the world. Even the possession of small amounts of narcotics can be punished by execution or a long prison term. In recent years courts here have shown no mercy for foreign nationals charged with such offenses. Many have been hanged.

The judge who sentenced the Sinaloan brothers to death more than a year ago told them at the time, "This verdict is that of the people of Malaysia." With today's ruling by the intermediate level Court of Appeals, the Mexicans have only one tribunal left from which to seek relief - the Federal Court - which heard and rejected their main evidentiary arguments some 20 months ago.

The defendants could also seek clemency from Malaysia's supreme leader, the Sultan, but there is little reason to believe he would abate a penalty which is mandatory for almost all drug offenses. In fact, he has never granted a reprieve in a narcotics trafficking case. Some 800 persons are now on Malaysia's death row for various capital crimes. All are awaiting execution by hanging.

Update - Late today Mexico's Foreign Ministry issued a formal statement expressing the country's firm opposition to the death penalty in all cases, and its support for the Gonzalez Villarreal brothers. "We will closely monitor the case as it moves to Malaysia's highest tribunal, the Federal Court," said the ministry. Mexican officials have not acknowledged the government is paying for or contributing to their defense, but that is highly probable since the men come from extremely modest circumstances.

May 16, 2012 - Three Mexican brothers sentenced to die on rope for Malaysian drug crimes

© MGRR 2013. All rights reserved. This article may be cited or briefly quoted with proper attribution or a hyperlink, but not reproduced without permission.

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