“These fucking pajuerano lawyers have to finish with the appeals (appeals) so that they execute me. I am wasting my time here, do you understand me?”
Víctor Hugo Saldaño told me this in the Allan B. Polunsky prison in Texas twelve years ago, when He had been on “death row” for 11 years. I was as close to him as possible. Separated by thick double glass, we chat on a phone, just like in the movies. When we say goodbye, we both rest our palms on the glass. It’s the only way to greet another person for those awaiting capital punishment.
In the hour-long chat, Saldaño told me the story of the journey of rebellion and partying that took him from his native Córdoba to the United States at the age of 17, a trip he financed with theft of cassette players and other petty crimes along the way. and which included a stopover in Brazil, where he was able to reunite for a few days with his father, who had abandoned him as a child.
He gave me details of how, after slipping into the Rio Grande, he got to New York, where he worked in an Italian restaurant washing dishes until they told him that in Texas he earned more money working in construction, and he went there.
He was not shy about acknowledging what happened the night of November 25, 1995, as he had already done before the police and Justice. what was there “drank too much” Y “smoked some joints” with his Mexican friend Jorge Chávez; that in the parking lot of a supermarket in a suburb of Dallas they kidnapped a merchant named Paul Ray King; that they took him to a wooded area where they took 50 dollars and a plastic watch and that, in the midst of his drunkenness, he had completed the task with five shots: “I rocked the shit out of it,” he told me.
In a speedy trial, Saldaño was sentenced to death in July 1996.. The report of a psychiatric expert who assured that, being Latino, he was prone to reoffend. The xenophobic argument he gave his lawyers the opportunity to take his case to the Supreme Court, which overturned the sentence and ordered a new trial. But in 2004with Victor Hugo already mentally degraded after eight years of confinement (he did not stop making cuteness and obscene gestures before the court), the judges again sentenced him to death.
By 2007, when I visited him, Saldaño already was a specter. His regimen has not changed since then. Happens 23 hours of each day in a cell of six square meters. Packed with sleeping pills, he sleeps most of the time. When he’s awake, he walks up and down his room: three steps to the door, three steps back to the window. Sometimes he climbs on the bed to look outside and discovers some cows grazing in the distance. “They are free, calm. They make me a little envious, you know? I just don’t know what to do right now. I am desperate, like a mouse that is put in a little drawer. I walk and walk around my cell all day, until I fall asleep”.
Since he was moved in 1999 to that prison an hour’s drive from Houston, in the middle of the Texas plain, the only people his skin has come into contact with are the guard who handcuffs him every day to take him to the showers and that of the doctor who checks him from time to time. His daily hour of “recreation” is in an outdoor cage barely larger than his cell, but also in solitude.
Beyond the sporadic visits from his mother, he only receives those from the Argentine consul and some evangelical pastors. He asked me for news about his Talleres de Córdoba. His life was already reduced to the basic drives:
-I dream of taking a mine. A bold. I have a passion for black girls.
-And if they set you free? Would you return to Argentina or would you stay here?
-This is a beautiful country, very prosperous. But I would like to go to Colombia, because of the climate and the mines, you saw. There’s a lot of this too (she makes a coke-snorting gesture and laughs).
But even then he had no real hope that his dream would come true and he prayed for an expeditious solution to his case. “Lawyers want to go for years. There are people who have been here for 27 years. But I don’t want to spend so much time. I already told my lawyer: “Drop my appeals”. Do you want clearer than that? Here it is very ugly. Dislike. The system is very cold, you are alone, you cannot have friends. This hell is unfair. I do not know what to do. Sometimes I think about committing suicide. I would like to have a gun, put it here, boom, boom, and it’s all over. Because if I kill myself, this penalty ends, jail ends. I tried it with a Gillette, but I don’t know how to do it or I don’t have enough balls…”, he confessed to me in the middle of yawning in the interview published by the magazine Viva de Clarín.
At times his tongue was clogged and it was difficult to understand him. But it was clear and explicit in his last request: “If they execute me, it is the solution to my problem. I want them to execute me now!”
His mother and his lawyers swear that Víctor never asked them to drop the legal fight. And of course, they didn’t.
Finally, the United States Supreme Court has just decided that it will not review the case. After 23 years in hell, the time seems to have come for Saldaño. All that remains is to set a date for his execution.
-And how do you imagine that day will be?– I asked him before saying goodbye.
-I’m sure King’s family will be there. I’ll tell them to excuse me, I was very clown. That he was drunk and didn’t know what he was doing. It will be a very nice day for me. I will be happy. I’m finally going to get out of here and then I’m going to be born again.
I kept reading:
Saldaño case: the US Court refused to review the case and the Argentine will be executed in Texas