Honduran man on Texas death row gets Supreme Court review

HOUSTON (AP) " The U.S. Supreme Court agreed Monday to consider the appeal of a Honduran man on Texas' death row whose attorneys contend he had poor legal help at his trial and in earlier stages of his appeals.

Carlos Ayestas, 47, was condemned for beating and strangling a Houston woman during a robbery at her home more than 20 years ago. His lawyers have argued that Harris County prosecutors pointed to him not being a citizen as reason to seek the death penalty against him and that his trial attorneys missed a note in the prosecution file about the noncitizen reference.

The Supreme Court said its review of Ayestas' case would focus on questions about whether previous attorneys adequately investigated if his drug addiction and mental illness could have convinced jurors he didn't deserve a death sentence.

Ayestas does not have an execution date.

Lee Kovarsky, one of the attorneys representing Ayestas for his appeal, said Monday that Ayestas' trial lawyers failed to conduct a background investigation capable of sparing his life and that jurors had no information about his mental health and drug addiction. Prison staff diagnosed Ayestas with schizophrenia soon after the trial, Kovarsky said.

The lawyer also contended lower federal courts were wrong to refuse financial resources Ayestas needed "to litigate the constitutional failures of his trial counsel."

"Mr. Ayestas' case is about the right to be fairly charged and defended," Kovarsky said, adding that Ayestas "has been denied his constitutional right to nondiscriminatory treatment and effective representation" from the time he was charged though his federal appeals.

The Texas attorney general's office had argued the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was correct last year when it decided evidence of Ayestas' substance abuse or mental illness would not have changed the jury outcome.

A Houston jury in 1997 deliberated only 12 minutes before deciding Ayestas should go to death row. The same jury convicted him of capital murder for the September 1995 slaying of 67-year-old Santiaga Pareque. Court records show Ayestas has previous prison terms in Texas and California for drug possession and sales, burglary and theft. California authorities also had issued a warrant for him for transportation of immigrants who are in the country illegally.

The high court Monday also reversed the judgments against two other Texas death row inmates based on a decision last week where the justices ruled the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ignored current medical standards and required use of outdated criteria when it decided an inmate was mentally disabled.

The Supreme Court returned the cases of James Lee Henderson and Raymond Martinez to the 5th Circuit. They do not have execution dates.

Henderson, 44, has been on death row since June 1994 for the shooting death of 85-year-old Martha Lennox the previous year during an attempted burglary of her home in Clarksville in far northeast Texas' Red River County.

Martinez, 70, has been on death row since July 1984 for the fatal shooting of 40-year-old Houston bar owner Herman Chavis during a robbery in July 1983.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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