Harris County prosecutors asked judges to cancel Villarreal's execution date pending Simmons.
Raul Villareal, a Latino male, was 17 years of age when he participated in the gang rape and murder of Jennifer Ertman, 14, (white) and Elizabeth Pena, 16, (Latina) in Harris County, Texas on June 24, 1993. He was subsequently found guilty and sentenced to death on September 22, 1994.
Facts of the Case
On the evening of June 24, 1993, Jennifer Ertman, 14, and Elizabeth Pena, 16, left a friend’s apartment and were taking a shortcut home through the woods, when they encountered Villarreal and other members of the so-called “Black and White” gang. All six gang members were engaged in a gang initiation rite for Villareal. The gang had spent the evening drinking and ‘jumping in’ Villareal; requiring him to fight all of the other members until he lost consciousness. At the trial it was shown that Villareal had fought three members before losing consciousness briefly.
After stumbling across the Black and White gang, each girl was repeatedly raped by the gang for the next hour. The girls were then strangled, beaten, and kicked to death.
Following a tip-off by the brother of one of the gang members, the bodies of the girls were found four days later in dense brush along a railroad track in northeast Houston, close to where they had been raped and killed. Raul Villareal was one of the five gang members charged with capital murder in the case. His co-defendants were: Peter Cantu, Joe Medellin, Sean O’Brien, and Efrain Perez. All were sentenced to death for the murders of Ertman and Pena. Medellin’s brother, Venancio, who was a juvenile, was also prosecuted. He received a 40-year sentence.
After the completion of the first two trials, (Peter Cantu in January and Sean O’Brien in March 1994) – the decision was made to try the remaining three defendants concurrently to save time and money. Assistant District Attorney Don Smyth believed that it was Harris County’s first simultaneous trials of three defendants. The three trials, held in separate courtrooms before separate judges and juries, all started at various times on Monday, September 12, 1994.
Separate juries found Perez, Villareal, and Medellin, guilty of capital murder and sentenced them to death for the girls’ rapes and murders. There was intense media coverage surrounding all three trials. Sean O’Brien’s lawyer stated that there was “just a little too much publicity for him to get a fair trial,” and that during jury selection more than 150 of about 180 potential jurors who were questioned had heard of the case.
An execution date has been set for June 24, 2004 - the eleventh anniversary of the crimes. State District Judge Mike Anderson set this date because the crime had made the girls' families and friends "dread the coming of June 24". When setting the date, Judge Anderson stated "I am setting that date for your execution. That may give you some idea how they feel about that date."
Efrain Perez, a co-defendant and juvenile at the time of the crime, has also received an execution date of June 23, 2004, - the day before that of Raul Villareal. State District Judge Jim Wallace said he was thinking of the victims' families when he set the date for Perez's execution: "I wanted to put the two days together so the families, if they are there, would not have to make two separate trips".
Executing Juvenile Offenders is Contrary to International Law
The execution of child offenders is in contravention of international law and fundamental standards of human rights. The ultimate goal of the international community is to abolish the death penalty under all circumstances; however, until that time there are restrictions on the categories of persons who can be executed, juveniles being one of the restricted categories. The prohibition of the execution of juvenile offenders is referenced in a number of international treaties, declarations, and statements by international bodies, in addition to the laws of the majority of nations. The execution of juveniles is expressly forbidden in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Article 6(5), the American Convention on Human Rights, Chapter 2, Article 4, Section 5, the Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, Article 68 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Article 37.
- For international law provisions prohibiting the execution of juvenile offenders click here.
Juvenile Offenders: Issues of Mitigation
By their very nature, juveniles are less mature, and therefore less culpable than adults. Adolescence is a transitional period of life when cognitive abilities, emotions, judgment, impulse control, identity -- even the brain -- are still developing.
- For more information on adolescent brain development click here.
Immaturity, compounded by additional extenuating circumstances, may demonstrate why the death penalty is not an appropriate form of punishment. A high percentage of juveniles on death row have suffered from all, or a combination of, the following mitigating factors; mental abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, drug addiction, abandonment and severe poverty.
- For more information on the implications of childhood trauma and abuse click here.