In 1990, Terence Valentine, a Costa Rican man living in Texas, was convicted of the gruesome 1988 killing of Ferdinand Porsche and the attempted murder of Valentine’s ex-wife, Libia Romero. Romero, who is also Costa Rican and who was divorced from Valentine at the time, testified in court that her ex-husband broke into the couple’s home in Tampa, Florida, shot Porsche in the back, “trussed him like an animal” while Porsche was naked and stabbed him several times before he shot him in the head, according to court documents. Valentine was found guilty of Porsche’s murder and sentenced to death in 1990. Valentine — now 66 — has maintained his innocence.
Valentine’s death sentence has tested the limits of Costa Rican influence in the United States during the last decade as the country’s embassy works to commute Valentine’s sentence in accordance with Costa Rica’s long-standing disapproval of the death penalty. Valentine is the only Costa Rican in the United States facing capital punishment.
National Liberation Party lawmaker Sandra Piszk brought Valentine’s situation back into national news last week when she called on the Foreign Ministry to bolster its support for Valentine and make a full report of its efforts to assist him. Piszk told local media that she believed Valentine’s race (he is black) and the fact that he’s a Latin American immigrant prejudiced the jury against him in his sentencing.
“Without getting into the details of the case, yes, we believe it’s reasonable to question the prisoner’s conditions,” Piszk told the newspaper Prensa Libre on Sept. 7. “It appears he did not have the necessary legal counsel.”
Piszk’s concerns are not unfounded. Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Project in Washington, D.C., told The Tico Times that there was reason for concern about foreign nationals on death row.
“The experience throughout the United States is that race, ethnicity and foreign nationality make a difference when you’re a capital defendant,” said Dunham.
Dunham said that he could not comment on the specifics of Valentine’s case but that a disproportionately high percentage of African Americans are on death row — 38 percent — compared to the general population in the state of Florida. Additionally, Dunham noted that Florida has the third highest number of foreign nationals on death row (21) after California (61) and Texas (22).
Valentine and Romero married in Costa Rica in 1973, according to records from the Civil Registry. The couple emigrated to the United States in 1975, settling in New Orleans. Court documents said the marriage was “not a happy one” and Romero tried to divorce Valentine in 1986. She married Ferdinand Porsche in 1988 and moved to Tampa. The legality of the divorce was under dispute, though, and Valentine, believing he and Romero were still married, started making threatening phone calls to Romero and Porsche’s home in Tampa between 1987 and September 1988.
On Sept. 9, 1988, Valentine forced his way into the couple’s home and shot Porsche in the back, paralyzing him from the waist down. Valentine then forced Porsche to crawl to the couple’s bedroom where Romero — who was pregnant at the time, according to court records — was gagged and tied up naked on the bedroom floor. She told authorities that Valentine told Porsche, “this is my revenge.”
“I’m gonna kill you, but you’re gonna suffer. This is not going to be easy,” Valentine said, according to Romero’s testimony. Valentine pistol whipped Porsche, beat him and stabbed him before driving him and Romero to an isolated area. Valentine shot and killed Porsche with a gunshot to the eye. He shot Romero but did not kill her.
When Romero recovered after several weeks in the hospital she started receiving more threatening phone calls from Valentine. One of these calls she recorded and handed it over to the authorities.
Valentine said he was not in the United States at the time of the homicide.
Valentine successfully appealed his 1990 conviction and was granted a retrail on the basis of jury selection by the Florida Supreme Court in 1994. He was convicted again of murdering Porsche. He was not convicted of the attempted murder of Romero. Valentine appealed his case to the U.S. Supreme Court but the court refused to hear his appeal against the Florida Supreme Court that reaffirmed his death sentence. Since then, Valentine has argued that he received ineffective counsel from his public defenders.
Foreign Ministry Legal Director Gioconda Ubeda told The Tico Times that the ministry has not taken a position on Valentine’s guilt or innocence. “There are many other ways to punish someone. We do not share belief in the death penalty, regardless if someone is guilty or not. We are not defending any specific acts but we are keeping an eye on the case to ensure his due process rights are respected,” Ubeda said.
Costa Rica’s death penalty stance and the Terence Valentine case
Costa Rica banned the death penalty in 1871, a prohibition that was codified in the 1948 Constitution. The maximum sentence for a crime in Costa Rica is 50 years in prison.
The Foreign Ministry and the Costa Rican diplomatic mission in the United States have been working on behalf of Valentine since 2005, Ubeda said, to try to secure an alternative sentence. In February 2012, the Costa Rican Embassy in Washington, D.C. sent a letter addressed to Florida Governor Rick Scott through diplomatic channels requesting that Scott consider commuting Valentine’s sentence. Ubeda said the Costa Rican Embassy never confirmed that the letter was received.
“The letter to reconsider the sentence has no position on the innocence or not of Mr. Valentine,” Ubeda said. “At the time, in 2012, the sentence was against the beliefs of Costa Rica and we requested changing it for a non-capital sentence.”
Clemency rules are different in every U.S. state. In Florida the governor needs the recommendation of the Clemency Board, on which the governor has a seat, to take action on a prisoner’s sentence. Only six clemencies have been granted in Florida since 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The state executed 90 people during that time period.
Ubeda said the Foreign Ministry has since refocused its efforts on helping Valentine secure conflict-free counsel.
Ubeda said the embassy has helped put Valentine in touch with a nongovernmental organization that specializes in death sentence cases but would not say which one. According to the Aug. 26 letter, Valentine had petitioned for Marie Louise Samuels to be named his new counsel. “Get these bums off my case,” Valentine wrote to Julie Jones, secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections, in a letter she received Aug. 26 following the denial of his latest motion for appointment for new counsel.
Though Valentine’s Supreme Court appeal was denied, there is another case pending before the Supreme Court, Hurst v. Florida, challenging the constitutionality of Florida’s death-sentencing scheme, arguing that it violates the sixth and eighth amendments.
The Supreme Court of Florida denied Valentine’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus in 2012. He appealed that decision and is currently awaiting a ruling on his petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the U.S. District Court of Middle Florida. No date has yet been set for Valentine’s execution.