Murphy’s Law

Six years ago Mario Murphy picked up a steel pipe and smashed it over the head of a man he’d been paid to kill. Murphy and five others were convicted of the brutal murder. Murphy received the death penalty, and his execution date is Wednesday. But in an ironic twist, Murphy’s execution may jeopardize the safety of thousands of innocent Americans. Murphy is a citizen of Mexico, a country which signed the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. Under the Convention, participating countries—which include the United States—agreed to notify the embassies of foreign nationals who are arrested. But Virginia authorities never told Murphy he had a right to contact the Mexican consulate. His attorney, Robert Brooks, believes that this failure affected the outcome of the trial—and he may have a point. Of the six defendants in the case, only Murphy was sentenced to death. Murphy’s attorneys are petitioning Virginia Governor George Allen to commute Murphy’s sentence to life in prison. I hope Governor Allen does commute Murphy’s sentence—not so much for the sake of a convicted cold-blooded killer, but for the sake of American citizens travelling abroad. I was working in the White House when the Convention was up for ratification in 1969. I remember the concerns many senators had over the treaty. They feared it would impose a new set of Miranda-type rights—rights that would be burdensome to administer. These were valid concerns. But President Nixon urged the Senate to consider the risks Americans would face if they traveled abroad and did not have reciprocal protections. Ultimately, the Senate approved the Vienna Convention because they wanted to give Americans the right to contact the State Department and seek assistance if—justly or unjustly—they got into trouble with the law overseas. If you’ve ever been in a foreign prison, you’ll understand how important this right is. I’ve been inside more than 600 prisons in 40 countries. Some of the most horrific conditions I have witnessed are in detention facilities, where detainees can spend years awaiting trial. I’ve met young American men and women living in unbelievably brutal conditions—who were told they had to bribe officials even to get a trial. This treaty protects them. Unfortunately, the U.S. has not vigilantly enforced the Vienna Convention treaty. Murphy is among some 60 foreign death-row inmates who were not informed of their rights under the treaty—a situation which angered the rest of the world. If the U.S. continues to ignore the Vienna treaty, other countries may decide to retaliate. And it’s not just tourists or kids caught with drugs who are at risk. Many American missionaries are already subject to harassment by the authorities in countries where they serve. If we ignore the law our nation has agreed to honor, we will place our missionaries in even greater peril. If Mario Murphy’s sentence is commuted to life in prison, he’ll still receive a punishment that’s far harsher than the punishments given his American-born co-conspirators. Our nation must play by the same rules we expect other countries to honor. Otherwise, foreign countries may start locking Americans up—and throwing away the consular key.


Chuck Colson


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