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Tuesday, 6 June, 2000, 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK
Death sentence on Hispanic overturned
George W Bush
Texas governor George W Bush backs executions
By Daniel Schweimler

Legal authorities in the United States are investigating eight further cases of prisoners on death row after the Supreme Court overturned the death sentence imposed on an Argentine man, partly because he was Hispanic.

As the suspect, Victor Hugo Saldano, was being sentenced for murder in the state of Texas, a prosecution witness told the jurors they should bear in mind his Hispanic ethnicity when determining his punishment.

The jury was told it was one factor that might make him more dangerous in the future and they should bear that in mind when deciding whether to give him a life sentence or the death penalty.

A Texas appeal court later ruled that bringing up ethnicity was not a fundamental error.

Court guilty

But the US Supreme Court disagreed and will now hold a new sentencing hearing.

Convicted murderer Victor Hugh Saldano
Saldano was sentenced to death partly because he was Hispanic

The Texas attorney general, John Cornyn, said there was no doubt that Mr Saldano was guilty of robbing and murdering a man near Dallas in 1995, and he remained a danger to society.

But, he added, his constitutional right to be sentenced without regard to the colour of his skin had been violated.

Mr Cornyn said the state confessed its error and was now looking into eight similar cases of prisoners on death row.

Hispanic outrage

Mr Saldano's case caused outrage in his home country, Argentina, where the death penalty was abolished many years ago.

Argentine lawyers said they found it intrinsically offensive for anyone to suggest that any Hispanic was more dangerous, and therefore more deserving of the death penalty, simply because he was Hispanic.

The authorities there joined 10 other Latin American countries in urging the US Supreme Court to intervene, more in hope than expectation.

Texas carries out more capital punishments than any state in the US: 218 since 1982.

And the governor of Texas, George W Bush, has emphasised his support for the death penalty in his bid to become the next US president.

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See also:

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14 Apr 98 | Despatches
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19 Dec 98 | Americas
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