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Guatemala broadcasts executions of two kidnappers

AP, June 30, 2000

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) As television broadcast the scene live, two members of a Guatemalan kidnapping ring were executed by lethal injection Thursday.

The executions came a week after Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo sent several family members to Canada for their safety, fearing reprisal from the kidnappers' partners.

Guatemalans watching television saw Amilcar Cetino Perez strapped to a gurney and mumble a prayer as the fatal mix of chemicals flowed into his arm. As he began die, television showed the line of a heart monitor start to flatten, cutting back to a shot of Cetino's hand as it quivered, then lay still.

Tomas Cerrate Hernandez's execution began an hour later. The broadcast showed the man shaking badly as he was led to the death chamber and prison doctors said the condemned prisoner had "a complete nervous breakdown."

Cetino Perez and Cerrate Hernandez were the second and third Guatemalans to be executed by lethal injection. Their deaths were continually rebroadcast for hours on nearly all of the country's TV channels.

Both men had proclaimed their innocence.

The airing of the executions caused such a stir here that the Guatemala City newspaper Nuestro Diario said it would publish a record number of copies of Friday's edition of its daily tabloid, which will carry coverage of the execution.

The executions of Cetino Perez, 35, and Cerrate Hernandez, 39, followed weeks of wild speculation that bordered on mass hysteria about jailbreaks and kidnappings planned by the crime syndicate Los Pasaco in defense of their condemned associates.

"Everything here has been extremely quiet," Luis Rivas, a spokesman for the Guatemala City fire department, said outside the Pavon rehabilitation work farm, 20 miles southeast of Guatemala City, where the executions took place. "There was no reason for us all to be so nervous."

Fears of Los Pasaco retaliation prompted Portillo's family to flee to Canada. Portillo, whose wife decided to stay by his side in Guatemala, said his mother and sister would be heading back to Guatemala Friday, but other members of the family have no immediate plans to return.

Cetino Perez and Cerrate Hernandez were sentenced to death for their role in the January 1997 kidnapping of Guatemalan Bonifassi de Botran, 80, one of the heirs to the Botran liquor distillery fortune.

De Botran's family paid a ransom for her safe return, but days later her body was found in a nylon sack inside a shabby home outside the city.

Members of the victim's family also left Guatemala bound for the United States this week. They did not say when they plan to return home.

Cetino Perez's mother, Teresa Canague de Santillo fainted outside the prison when she learned of her son's execution and was treated by paramedics for shock. He also had a wife and four children.

Los Pasaco began with 15 or so members robbing cars, convenience stores and banks in 1994. It has grown into a well-organized criminal syndicate hundreds strong that specializes in high-profile kidnappings.

Phil Donahue, Daytime show host:

"Not only do I want to televise Timothy McVeigh's execution, but I think all executions should at least be open to television cameras. I believe this is the news of the day. These are decisions which you voted upon. They are decided by the people, paid for by the people, carried out in the name of the people. This is the public business, and for First Amendment reasons, I believe television should have access to the death house at the time of an execution. If you think the death penalty is a deterrent, what better way to enhance its deterrent value than to let the kids see what happens if you're a bad person?"

Timothy McVeigh wants to be executed on national television. The convicted Oklahoma City bomber does not object to a closed-circuit telecast for victims. But, in a letter, he questioned how it could be done fairly.

"Because the closed-circuit telecast of my execution raises these fundamental equal access concerns, and because I am otherwise not opposed to such a telecast, a reasonable solution seems obvious: hold a true 'public' execution - allow a public broadcast," he wrote in the 2-page letter to The Oklahoman.

McVeigh, 32, is set to be executed by lethal injection May 16 at the federal penitentiary in Terre Haute, Ind.

His attorney, Rob Nigh Jr., confirmed McVeigh wrote the letter. The attorney said McVeigh is serious about the proposal.

"He is in favor of public scrutiny of government action, including his execution," said Nigh, of Tulsa.

In the Feb. 1 hand-written letter, McVeigh called his execution site at the federal prison "the death house."

Only 8 seats are available there for victims to watch in person. About 250 victims have said they have an interest in seeing it. Because of the limitations, several victims are pushing to have the execution shown on closed-circuit television in Oklahoma City.

McVeigh's trial was in Denver, but was shown to victims at an auditorium at the Federal Aviation Administration in Oklahoma City.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons is reviewing the victims' request as well as the possibility of a closed-circuit telecast in Terre Haute instead. A national broadcast of the execution has not been discussed.

"It hasn't been considered. It won't happen," bureau spokesman Dan Dunne said. "We would not allow that."

That decision could be changed if federal legislation forced it.

In his letter, McVeigh questioned who would qualify as a victim for a closed-circuit telecast. He wondered specifically whether rescuers would be included.

"It has ... been said that 'all of Oklahoma' was a victim of the bombing. Can 'all of Oklahoma' watch?" he wrote. "What about proportional fairness to the defendant?" he also wrote. "Should the inmate not be allowed to have additional spiritual advisors, attorneys, and/or family, friends view his death?"

Only 6 seats are available for McVeigh's witnesses to watch in person. He can choose 2 attorneys, 1 spiritual adviser and 3 adult relatives or friends.

McVeigh complained in the letter about being allowed only 2 attorneys when prison rules put no specific limits on how many government attorneys can watch in person.

He questioned further whether government employees and government attorneys who weren't victims would get in if the execution is shown at the FAA center in Oklahoma City.

"Who watches the door - other government employees?" he wrote. McVeigh is being executed for the deadly 1995 attack on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

McVeigh dropped his appeals in December and must decide this week whether to seek clemency from President Bush.

He would be the 1st federal inmate executed since 1963.

The idea of televising executions has come up before.

In 1994, Phil Donahue, then a popular talk-show host, tried to get permission to televise an execution in a North Carolina gas chamber. Donahue is a death-penalty opponent.

Convicted murderer David Lawson agreed to cooperate, but the idea was turned down by the North Carolina Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Later in 1994, an Ohio judge was criticized worldwide when he sentenced a killer to death and called for the execution to be televised.

"Since we have everything else on TV, let this be shown so the public can see there is swift and certain punishment," the judge said.

A televised execution in Guatemala last year made a few newscasts in the United States.

Some states allow relatives of murder victims to watch executions on closed-circuit television. Oklahoma has done so 6 times, primarily when too many relatives show up for all to watch in person.

McVeigh does not plan to file any legal motion to seek a televised execution.

"It's something that he won't object to. It's something that he won't push for either," Nigh said.

The attorney, though, said he supports the idea.

"If it is our collective judgment that capital punishment is a reasonable response to crime, we need to come to grips with what it actually is," Nigh said.

McVeigh's letter was in response to written questions from The Oklahoman.

Why is is that neither George W. Bush nor other politicians propose to broadcast executions to strengthen the alleged deterrent effect of the death penalty?

Why not use TV to show the criminals what's waiting for them if they mess with Texas or other bloodthirsty states????