Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Texas Death Machine Grinds Back into Gear

Texans take homicidal death seriously - the death of both the victim and the killer. According to Texas logic, the victim must be avenged, the murderer must pay. This drives the anti-death crowd crazy. After the Supreme Court ruled that death by lethal injection was not unconstitutional, the dormant machine chugged back to life. On June 11, Karl Chamberlain paid the ultimate price for murdering Felecia Prechtl and on July 10, Carlton Turner, Jr. died for the murders of his adoptive parents, Carlton and Tonya Turner.

Texas has scheduled thirteen more executions for this year. One of the most deserving members of the state’s Dead Man Walking Club is Jose Ernesto Medellin. The crimes he and five others committed on the night of June 24, 1993 converted many who opposed execution into death penalty zealots.

The hard-to-stomach story is well-told in Pure Murder by Corey Mitchell (Kensington Publishing Company, 2008).

On a steaming summer night in Houston, two girls, fourteen-year-old Jennifer Ertman and her friend, sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Pena, decided to cut through T. C. Jester Park to get home before their 11:00 curfew. Both girls were good students from loving, supporting families. Their parents made sure they stayed away from the drug, sex, and rock ‘n’ roll scene. The teenagers were taught to respect themselves and others.

In the park, a group of monsters waited, thirsting for blood. In fact, they had just welcomed a new member into their make-shift gang by beating him up. Each of these sociopaths, including Jose Ernesto Medellin, 18, was the exact opposite of Jennifer and Elizabeth. In school, they were uncontrollable. They enjoyed confrontation and causing pain. They wandered through their lives seeking the next high in alcohol or drugs or violence.

On this night, Medellin’s cohorts were Peter Cantu, 18, Efrain Perez, 17, Derrick Sean O’Brien, 18, Raul Villareal, 17, and Jose’s 14-year-old brother, Yuni. As the girls hurried along the railroad tracks that cut through the park, Cantu jumped out of the darkness and grabbed Elizabeth. He pulled her down the track’s embankment and threw her to the ground. Jennifer was a few feet ahead and may have been able to outrun the group but turned back to help her friend.

What followed was one of the most vicious gang-rapes in the history of Houston. For an hour, the gang violated the girls in every way imaginable. Pure Murder details the assaults in one soul-grinding chapter. When it’s over, the reader wants to bathe the evil away. After the savage rape, the gang dragged their victims into the forest and murdered them.

Here’s a brief excerpt: “Joe Medellin and Cantu grabbed one of Perez’s shoelaces. They looped it around Elizabeth’s neck and began to pull. Elizabeth tried to escape, but she was tackled by Cantu, who proceeded to kick her in the face with his steel-tipped boots. He kicked her so hard and so many times that he knocked out three of her front teeth. He also broke several of her ribs with his boots.”

The bodies were left to the elements while the excited gang traveled to the home of Joe and Christina Cantu where they bragged for most of the night about their crimes. Christina, horrified, compelled her husband, Peter’s brother, to call a local tip-line.

The six killers were quickly apprehended. All were tried and convicted. There was absolutely no doubt about their guilt. Because of his youth, Yuni Medellin was sentenced to only 40 years in prison. The rest of the gang received either life or the death penalty. Derrick O’Brien was executed June 11, 2006.

Since Jose Medellin was born in Mexico, he was included in a lawsuit by the Mexican government against the United States. In that suit, Mexico claimed that the U. S. violated the Vienna Convention by sentencing Mexican nationals to death without first notifying Mexican authorities. On March 25, 2008, the United States Supreme Court rejected that argument, clearing the way for the murderer to face lethal injection.

So, as Medellin awaits his fate, scheduled for August 5, we can go to the website of the Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty and read some of the thoughts posted by the killer. The machismo he showed while raping and torturing and murdering two innocent girls is now gone. The braggadocio he displayed while reliving his crimes has vanished.

Here’s a sample of his writing: “Hi! People of the world, the outside world I have not known in so long. My life is in Black & White like the old Western movies. But unlike the movies the good guys don’t always finish first. My name is Jose Medellin. I am currently being held on Death Row, in the state that is at the top of the list for Death Row population, 453, executions this year: 28, as of 9/14/99. The State and government that also executes its children, its retarded, its poor. This state is the Lone Star State of Texas!”

According to the killer, the good guys don’t always finish first. He’s right there. Jennifer Ertman and Elizabeth Pena are proof of that.

For the definitive account of this case, pick up a copy of Corey Mitchell’s Pure Murder.

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