LaGrand Case - Background

Background

On January 7, 1982, brothers Karl and Walter Bernhard LaGrand bungled an armed bank robbery in Marana, Arizona, United States, killing a man and severely injuring a woman in the process. They were subsequently charged and convicted of murder and sentenced to death. The LaGrands were German nationals, having been born in Germany. While they had both lived in the United States since they were four and five, respectively, neither had officially obtained U.S. citizenship. As foreigners the LaGrands should have been informed of their right to consular assistance, under the Vienna Convention, from their state of nationality, Germany. However the Arizona authorities failed to do this even after they became aware that the LaGrands were German nationals. The LaGrand brothers later contacted the German consulate of their own accord, having learned of their right to consular assistance. They appealed their sentences and convictions on the grounds that they were not informed of their right to consular assistance, and that with consular assistance they might have been able to mount a better defense. The federal courts rejected their argument on grounds of procedural default, which provides that issues cannot be raised in federal court appeals unless they have first been raised in state courts.

Diplomatic efforts, including pleas by German ambassador J├╝rgen Chrobog and German Member of Parliament Claudia Roth, and the recommendation of Arizona's clemency board, failed to sway Arizona Governor Jane Dee Hull, who insisted that the executions be carried out. Karl LaGrand was subsequently executed by the state of Arizona on February 24, 1999, by lethal injection. Walter LaGrand was then executed March 3, 1999, by lethal gas.

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