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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 March, 2005, 21:43 GMT
Puerto Rico pair facing death row
A jury in Puerto Rico has convicted two men of premeditated murder, paving the way for the first executions in the US territory since 1928.

Hernando Medina Villegas, 25, and Lorenzo Catalan Roman, 24, killed a truck security guard three years ago.

The death penalty is banned in Puerto Rico's 1952 constitution, but allowed under US federal law, which also applies in the Caribbean territory.

A US federal judge told the jury to reconvene on 11 April for sentencing.

The last person executed in Puerto Rico was Pascual Ramos, who was hanged in 1928 after beheading his boss with a machete.

Capital punishment was banned in Puerto Rico 75 years ago, and codified in the territory's 1952 constitution.

But a US federal appeals court ruled in 2001 that US laws on the death penalty do apply to Puerto Rico, which is a self-governing commonwealth of the US.

'Solid evidence'

US lawyers have pushed for the death penalty for the two men, saying that they wilfully and knowingly caused a man's death while carrying out an armed robbery.

Medina Villegas and Catalan Roman were accused of three armed robberies in 2001 and 2002.

A US execution chamber
The US has applied to have the men killed by lethal injection
They were charged with murder after shooting dead Gilberto Rodriguez Cabrera, the security guard of an armoured truck, while carrying out the third robbery, an attempted snatch of $100,000 cash (53,000).

The pair's defence team insisted that the men did not plan to shoot the guard, but over-reacted during 31 seconds of chaos.

"The evidence is solid and decisive," prosecutor Lynn Doble said during her closing statements.

She also told the jury that Mr Rodgriguez Cabrera's dying words were: "No, no, please, no."

The six man, six woman jury has been asked to decide whether the pair will face death by lethal injection or life in prison.

Many ordinary Puerto Ricans are opposed to the imposition of the death penalty, saying the US is imposing it on the island in a colonialist fashion.

Puerto Rico's bar association and human rights commission, as well as a string of regional and international activist groups, are also opposed to a capital sentence.

Regions and territories: Puerto Rico
07 Jan 05 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Puerto Rico
29 Dec 04 |  Country profiles

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