05/20/12 – Despite pressure from the Mexican National Commission of Human Rights (Comisión Nacional de Derechos Humanos, CNDH) to call attention to and stop the sentencing of Mexicans abroad to the death penalty, the Villarreal case in Malaysia is ending in capital punishment for the three Mexican brothers. Luis Alfonso (47), José Regino (36), and Simón González Villareal (33) were all sentenced on May 16 to death by hanging for their involvement in drug trafficking, a decision handed down by the High Court of Kuala Lumpur, a justice tribunal in Malaysia. According to El Universal, presiding Judge Mohamed Zawawi announced the verdict. Two other suspects–Lee Boon Siah of Malaysia and Lim Hung Wah of Singapore–were also found guilty along with the Villareal brothers, all of whom were arrested in 2008 for allegedly being involved in trafficking methamphetamine.
Judge Zawawi explained that he based his decision largely on the fact that the suspects had traces of methamphetamine found on their clothes, a drug that authorities discovered at the scene where the defendants were arrested on March 4, 2008. Malaysian police found large quantities of various materials used to make methamphetamine, as well as 29 kilos of the drug itself at an industrial plant in the port city of Johor Bahru. Judge Zawawi, whose nickname is “Judge Rope” (“juez soga”) for the number of death penalty sentences he has ordered in his career, admitted that the prosecutors never actually proved that the brothers made any of the meth. However, he said that because they had traces of the drug on them, plus “their presence in Malaysia and specifically at the site in which the drugs were found, [this] was sufficient enough evidence to convict them.”
According to reports, the brothers were shocked at the verdict. Although the only punishment for drug trafficking in Malaysia is the death penalty, the defendants said they were sure they would be found innocent, so sure that they even brought their personal belongings in plastic bags with them to the court expecting to be released. Even the brothers’ lawyer, Kitson Foong, was optimistic enough that they would be cleared of charges that he advised his clients to bring their passports with them. Foong allegedly told a representative from the Mexican embassy present at the May 16 hearing, “If we win, we have to remove them as quickly as we can from the country before the prosecutors have a chance to appeal.” Given the ruling, however, Foong will now fight the decision, sending an appeal to the Appellate Court and eventually the Federal Court of Malaysia. Foong reiterated his arguments that he had made throughout the case as support in favor of the Villareal brothers’ release, noting specifically that not only did police tamper with evidence found at the scene when the defendants were arrested, but also that the evidence used to convict the brothers was insufficient.
Judge Zawawi’s ruling makes the Sinaloa-born Villareal brothers the first Mexicans ever sentenced to death in Asia. The decision adds to the more than 900 other death sentence rulings that have been handed out in Malaysia, the majority for drug trafficking, reported Milenio. After the sentencing, as Luis, José, and Simón were walked out of the courtroom en route to their new holding cells in the Sungai Buloh prison, a security guard yelled out in support of the brothers, “Tell them in Mexico that we will fight, we will appeal!”
Last month, the National Commission for Human Rights in Mexico called on the Mexican government to intensify its efforts to stop Mexicans from facing the death penalty abroad. (Read more about CNDH’s efforts here). According to CNDH, the death penalty “is the most grave sanction a person can face due to that fact that it is irreversible by nature and is a method that does not guarantee justice.” The organization even specifically named the Villareal case, which at that point was pending a decision, as an example of the injustice Mexicans living abroad face. Mexico abolished the death penalty in 2005.