Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the May 1, 1997
issue of Workers World newspaper

After 15 years on Texas death row

Ricardo Aldape Guerra free at last

By Gloria Rubac in Houston

Ticardo Aldape Guerra was greeted as a national hero in mid-April as he returned home to Mexico after spending 15 years on Texas' death row.

Aldape Guerra was 20 years old and had been in this country only two months in 1982 when Houston police and prosecutors railroaded him for the killing of a Houston cop. He turned 35 on April 3 while confined in the Harris County jail waiting for a ruling that would either release or retry him.

On April 15 he received word that the charges had been dropped because of police and prosecution misconduct. The next day Immigration and Naturalization Service agents drove him to the U.S.-Mexico border and released him. Hundreds of Mexicans welcomed him at the international bridge between Brownsville, Texas, and Matamoros, Mexico.

Reached by phone, Aldape Guerra told Workers World he wants to thank all his supporters for everything they did over the years to help him win his case.

"I am very happy to be out, yet at the same time I'm angry that I have been robbed of 15 years of my life," he said. "I'm happy to be with my family but I know that the executions are going on in Huntsville.

"Things are a little hectic right now and I need some time. But I want you to know I'm not finished yet."

Hundreds of exuberant well-wishers welcomed him home as he arrived at the airport at Monterrey, his hometown. They included the governor of the state of Nuevo Leon and the former foreign minister of Mexico.

People lined the streets from the airport to his home. There were more than a thousand cheering and applauding him at his childhood home in La Moderna.

When it was announced at a soccer game at Monterrey stadium that Aldape Guerra was there and the game would be dedicated to him, the crowd of 43,000 rose to their feet.

A well-known case

After his trial and conviction in a racist Texas court, Aldape Guerra was seen as a symbol of Mexicans fighting U.S. repression. His fight for his life was the subject of ballads and books.

His 1982 trial took place in the midst of anti-immigrant hysteria. The Ku Klux Klan demonstrated outside the courthouse demanding his conviction of capital murder.

Political support for his case began in 1982 in the Mexican and Chicano communities in Houston as well as all over Mexico. It continued throughout his 15 years in prison.

Houston activist Rosa Cuella remembers the early days. "We always believed in Ricardo and knew he was innocent and we worked so hard for his freedom. His case gave us hope. We held all kinds of events, support meetings, we wrote letters and we marched.

"We learned so much by standing by Ricardo. We finally have our victory."

News on death row

On Huntsville Death Row, word spread quickly about this victory.

"When I saw on TV them taking the handcuffs off Ricardo for the last time, I was filled with emotion. That was beautiful," Harvey "Tee" Earvin told Workers World. Earvin organized the death-row group Panthers United for Revolutionary Education.

Aldape Guerra's appeal was first taken up by attorney Sandra Babcock of the Texas Resource Center in 1991. By 1992, she had recruited attorney Scott Atlas, who worked for Houston's largest law firm, Vinson and Elkins.

The firm reports it spent $2.5 million fighting this case before Judge Kenneth Hoyt ruled that "the police officers' and prosecutors' actions described in these findings were intentional, were done in bad faith and were outrageous." He added that "there had been ample evidence the killer was not Mr. Aldape."

What of the others?

Few if any of the 460 prisoners on Texas death row have had adequate counsel or competent attorneys to represent them. "We'll never know how many are wrongfully convicted and executed until we provide adequate funding and counsel for all," commented Stan Schneider, one of Aldape Guerra's lawyers.

Under the restrictive crime law pushed by President Bill Clinton, Schneider says, Aldape's appeal probably would have been unsuccessful.

While Aldape Guerra has said he has no wish to return to the United States, one thing he has in this area is the love of the many people who defended him. He has also left many on death row who are thrilled he won his freedom.

Many in Houston and around the state will always carry the memory of his struggle and his victory in their hearts.

[The writer has supported Aldape Guerra's case since 1982, and has worked with his defense committees organizing marches and rallies since. She is also a Houston organizer for the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.]

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