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Pope urged to plea for fellow Argentinian on death row in Texas

13 June 2016 | by Christopher Lamb , Daniele Palmer

Murderer is mentally ill and should not be on death row, his mother claims when meeting Francis

An Argentinian woman whose son is on death row in Texas met with Pope Francis this morning where she was expected once again to ask the pontiff to intervene in the case. Victor Hugo Saldaño has been awaiting execution since 1996 for the murder of salesmen Paul King and his guilt has not been called into question. 

But defenders, led by his mother Lidia Guerrero, pictured, said he should be taken off death row pointing to his declining mental health and flaws in the prosecution case including the fact that her son’s Saldaño’s ethnicity was used as one of the reasons to put him to death. 

Guerrero has met with the Argentine Pope once before: in February 2014 under the pouring rain in St Peter’s Square, Francis told her that “I’ve prayed so much for your son” leaving her the hope that he would in someway intervene. But today’s meeting was the first official papal audience she has received. 

The Pope has repeatedly called for the abolition of the death penalty including in a speech to congress in Washington during his visit last September to the United States. This is something of a development of teaching given the catechism of the Catholic Church permits the death penalty in some circumstances. 

But in February Francis told a crowd in St Peter’s Square: "I appeal to the consciences of those who govern to reach an international consensus to abolish the death penalty.”

He added: ”The commandment "You shall not kill," has absolute value and applies to both the innocent and the guilty,"

In 1995 Saldaño and an accomplice kidnapped King from outside a convenience store, drove him to a quiet spot, robbed him of a watch and $50 before Saldaño shot him dead. The Argentinian was high on crack cocaine and drunk at the time of the crime. King’s body was later found in the woods while the gun used to kill the salesman was found in the Argentine’s pocket.

Saldaño was convicted of the murder and sentenced to die by lethal injection while his accomplice received a sentence of life imprisonment.

The first trial was riddled with flaws - including racism - and the verdict overturned by the Supreme Court. A later trial once again found him guilty and sentenced to the death penalty although a date has not yet been set. A complaint lodged with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIDH) found against the United States. 

Texas had taken the evidence of a criminal profile who told the court in a number of trials that Black and Hispanic offenders were more likely to be a future danger to society because of their ethnicity. One of the stipulations for handing out the death penalty in Texas is that the criminal must be deemed likely to be a future danger to the public.

Saldaño's case is more complicated by the fact that, according to his mother, the very fact of death row has seen a marked deterioration in his mental condition, although the district attorney's office maintain that he "has a documented history of faking mental illness during his confinement".



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