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Argentine mother asks Pope Francis to help free her son Saldano from Texas death row

In this Feb. 5, 2014 photo, Pope Francis meets Argentine Lidia Guerrero in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican. (L'Osservatore Romano/Pool Photo via AP)

When Lidia Guerrero met with Pope Francis last year, he already knew of her son’s plight.

Her son Victor Hugo Saldano has been on death row in Texas for 19 years, after he was found guilty of shooting a man in a parking lot.

His mother has said he is guilty of the crime, but has been driven to insanity on death row.

Ms Guerrero was more hopeful than ever after meeting Pope Francis in 2014 that his sentence could be changed from death to life imprisonment.

In this Aug. 22, 2015 photo, Lidia Guerrero holds up a picture of her son Victor Saldano inside her home in Cordoba, Argentina. “I have no certainty that Pope Francis will ask for clemency for my son, but I do have hope,” said Guerrero, 67. Saldano has been on death row for 19 years in Texas for the 1995 murder of computer salesman Paul Kin near Dallas. (AP Photo/ Nico Aguilera)
Lidia Guerrero holds up a picture of her son Victor Saldano inside her home in Cordoba, Argentina. (AP Photo/ Nico Aguilera)

When she met Pope Francis, she said he told her he “prayed so much for that young man from Cordoba,” referring to her son’s hometown.

The pope has been an avid critic of the death penalty, and his home country Argentina does not have capital punishment.

Many of those who oppose the death penalty are hoping Pope Francis puts pressure on to abolish it when he visits the USA next month – though historically similar pleas have not been welcome.

Guerrero said she is praying that the Pope goes further, and intervenes on behalf of her son.

Despite the seeminly hard battle, a pope winning such a case is not unprecedented.

In 1999 Pope John Paul II successfully won a reprieve from Missouri Governor Mel Carnahan on behalf of a prisoner scheduled for execution. They were ordered to serve life in prison without parole instead.

“I have no certainty that Francis will ask for clemency for my son, but I do have hope,” said Guerrero, 67, speaking to The Associated Press.

Lidia Guerrero crosses her hands over photographs of her son Victor Saldano, a convicted murderer who has been on death row in Texas for 19 years, inside her home in Cordoba, Argentina. (AP Photo/Nico Aguilera)
Lidia Guerrero crosses her hands over photographs of her son Victor Saldano, a convicted murderer who has been on death row in Texas for 19 years, inside her home in Cordoba, Argentina. (AP Photo/Nico Aguilera)

Saldano’s case was already reviewed in 2002, because his Hispanic ethnicity was one of the factor’s the jury considered when deciding his sentence.

Then in 2004, Saldano had a second sentencing trial that did not take it into consideration, but he was given the death penalty again.

“Two different juries have found that Saldano is a future danger and should die for his crime,” wrote John R. Rolater, Jr., the assistant criminal district attorney in Collins County, where Saldano was convicted, in response to questions from The Associated Press.

Ms Guerrero and lawyer, Juan Carlos Vega, who helped present the case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, sent a letter to the Vatican about Saldano in December 2013, and were invited to Rome.
Since the meeting, Vega says he has provided Vatican officials documentation on the legal fight .
“This isn’t just one more death penalty case,” said Vega.

Lidia Guerrero, mother of death row inmate Victor Saldano, poses for a portrait at her home in Cordoba, Argentina. (AP Photo/ Nico Aguilera)
Lidia Guerrero, mother of death row inmate Victor Saldano, poses for a portrait at her home in Cordoba, Argentina. (AP Photo/ Nico Aguilera)

According to AP, U.S. ambassador to the Holy See Kenneth Hackett, said he wasn’t aware of Saldano’s case but that people with loved ones in U.S. prisons frequently appeal to the pope.

Hackett said Pope Francis may raise the issue while visiting a correctional center in Philadelphia.

On November 25th, 1995, Saldano and Mexican friend Jorge Chavez, drunk and high on crack cocaine, were seen holding Paul King at gunpoint in a parking lot.

King was later found shot to death in a nearby forest. When Saldano was later arrested, he was wearing King’s watch and carrying the gun.

During the penalty phase of his 1996 trial, psychologist Walter Quijano was called as an expert witness.

According to court documents Quijano presented factors for the jury to use to evaluate whether Saldano would be dangerous in the future – it included race.

Quijano said that blacks and Hispanics were overrepresented in Texas prisons, so there was a correlation between race and future dangerousness.

The jury gave Saldano the death penalty though his execution date has not been scheduled.