Friday, July 06, 2001

Man's appeal hinges on treaty

By Chris Wetterich
The Associated Press

        A Jordanian convicted in Hamilton County of arranging a murder-for-hire and sentenced to die says he should get a new trial because police never allowed him access to his consulate.

        Prosecutors and defense lawyers are at odds over whether it would have made any difference in the trial outcome if Ahmad Fawzi Issa, 31, had talked to a representative of the Jordanian government.

        The case has reached the Ohio Supreme Court, which could rule this summer.

        Authorities say a woman hired Mr. Issa to arrange her husband's murder because he planned to divorce her. They say Mr. Issa hired another man for $10,000 to kill Maher Khrais, a convenience store owner.

        Mr. Khrais and his brother, Ziad Khreis, who happened to be with him, were shot and killed Nov. 22, 1997, outside the store. A Hamilton County jury in 1998 convicted Mr. Issa of aggravated murder.

        Under the Vienna Treaty signed by the United States in 1968, foreign nationals must be informed of their right to consult with a representative of their country's government if they are arrested.

        Hamilton County Prosecutor Michael Allen said Mr. Issa did not confess and the trial's outcome would have been the same even if he had spoken with a consul.

        Prosecutors also argue that Mr. Issa's rights were not denied because there is no record he asked to contact the consulate. They say Mr. Issa never asserted this claim during this trial.

        Speedy Rice, a law professor at Gonzaga University in Washington state who has studied and written about consular law, said it doesn't matter whether Mr. Issa would have been convicted anyway.

        “The point is he had a right to talk to somebody,” said Mr. Rice, who filed a brief in support of Mr. Issa's appeal. “We breached an international treaty.”

        Mr. Issa was a friend of Mr. Khrais and had worked in his store. Although he had lived in the United States for a while, that wouldn't necessarily make him familiar with U.S. legal procedures, said his attorney, A. Norman Aubin.

        “You don't know anything about American law. English is not your first language. A working knowledge does not mean you're fluent with the language and customs,” Mr. Aubin said. “It would have made a difference.”

        Mr. Rice said Americans' rights are endangered when they visit foreign countries because the U.S. government fails to educate state and local law enforcement of the importance of the treaty.

        A Cincinnati immigration attorney, however, said he thinks law enforcement is becoming more conscientious. Douglas Weigle said consular advice is important but would have little effect on the quality of a defense.

        “The consulate doesn't pay for your legal counsel,” Mr. Weigle said. “I'm not aware of a court that reversed a decision because the defendant didn't see the consulate.”

        Mr. Issa's attorneys also say he should not have been sentenced to die, based on the trial results of the other defendants.

        A jury acquitted Mr. Khrais' wife, Linda Khriss, and spared the life of Andre Miles, the man hired to do the shooting, after being told he had a troubled childhood.


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