Illegal Alien's Defense Attorney Works for Mexican Government

Penny Starr | Senior Staff Writer | Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Illegal Alien's Defense Attorney Works for Mexican Government

( - An illegal alien is facing the death penalty after being convicted May 8 of capital murder in the 2006 death of Houston police officer Rodney Johnson. The attorney who tried and failed to have him found not guilty by reason of insanity was paid by the Mexican government, according to newspaper and television reports.

The Mexican government retained Danalynn Recer to defend Juan Leonardo Quintero through its Mexican Capital Legal Assistance program, which pays for the defense of Mexican citizens whose conviction in U.S. courts could result in a death sentence - even those, like Quintero, who confess to the crime.

Quintero's confession was videotaped, and days before his trial started in April, Recer said her client would plead guilty if he could be sentenced to life in prison, a plea bargain prosecutors rejected, according to The Houston Chronicle .

On Oct. 13, 2006, Houston television station KTRK, Channel 13, reported that an argument took place in pre-trial hearings about who would defend Quintero and who would pay for his defense.

"Quintero, a Mexican national in this country illegally, says he's too poor to pay for his defense," KTRK Channel 13 reported. "So now the Mexican government has stepped in. Danalynn Recer, hired by the Mexican Consulate, wants to be lead attorney. But Jim Leitner, appointed by the courts, does as well."

State District Court Judge Joan Campbell said both attorneys could conduct Quintero's defense, a decision prosecuting District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal took issue with, the station reported.

"Harris County should not have to pay for something that the Mexican government already plans to pay for," the station quoted Rosenthal as saying.

On Nov. 29, 2006, The Houston Chronicle reported that Judge Campbell had reversed her earlier ruling and dismissed the appointed attorneys defending Quintero. "She ruled instead that the man's choice of attorneys, a Houston capital murder specialist hired by the Mexican Consulate, would be his attorney," the paper reported.

Quintero had a previous conviction for driving while intoxicated and received deferred adjudication on charges of indecency with a child before being deported to his native Mexico in 1999. He slipped back into the country that same year.

In September 2006, Johnson stopped Quintero for speeding and arrested him for driving without a license. Johnson didn't find the gun carried by Quintero, who then managed while handcuffed to shoot the officer seven times.

According to court documents, Recer has worked for the Mexican government on behalf of at least one other Mexican national accused of a capital crime in the United States.

In documents filed in the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and in the District Court of Harris County, Recer was named in March 2004 as the defense attorney for Jose Ernesto Medellin Rojas, a Mexican national who was sentenced to death along with four others for the gang rapes and murders of 14-year-old Jenny Ertman and 16-year-old Elizabeth Pena.

The Mexican government has long argued it should be notified if one of its citizens faces charges abroad that could result in the death penalty. Article 36 of the 1963 United Nation's Vienna Convention on Consular Relations says, "local authorities must notify all detained foreigners 'without delay' of their right to have their consulate informed of their detention."

In 2003, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued a ruling, alleging the violation of the convention in the cases of 53 Mexican nationals, including Medellin, who were facing the death penalty in the United States.

But in March, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the ICJ decision didn't constitute binding law in U.S. courts.

The punishment phase of the trial continues and when it concludes the jury will decide if Quintero will be sentenced to death.

"We trust the judgment of 12 citizens to determine the appropriate punishment for the man who executed Officer Johnson," Assistant District Attorney Denise Bradley said, according to the Houston Chronicle .

Dozens of the slain officer's friends, family, and co-workers gave opening statements at the start of Quintero's death penalty trial, including his wife, Joslyn, who spoke about her husband's heroics, including pulling disabled people from the a burning building, which won him a medal of valor.

The couple was raising three daughters and two sons. Johnson, a 12-year police veteran, also served in the U.S. Army.

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