Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man?

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An article published in the Columbia University Human Rights Law Review sheds new light on the case of Carlos DeLuna, who was executed by the State of Texas in 1989. Read articles in The Huffington Post and The Guardian for powerful summaries of this shocking case.

One of the most thorough investigations of a criminal case in U.S. history, the article “Los Tocayos Carlos: An Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution” uncovers evidence that Carlos DeLuna was likely innocent of the 1983 murder of Wanda Lopez in Corpus Christi.  The article also provides compelling evidence of the identity of the real killer – Carlos Hernandez – a violent and dangerous man who was well-known to law enforcement yet was ridiculed by prosecutors as a “phantom” of DeLuna's imagination during his trial.

Everything that could go wrong in a death penalty case did so for Carlos DeLuna, a poor Hispanic man with childlike intelligence who maintained his innocence from the time of his arrest to his execution just six years later.  Among the many issues calling into question the reliability of DeLuna's conviction are:

  • A single cross-ethnic eyewitness identification conducted at night, at the crime scene, while the suspect was in the back seat of a police squad car;
  • No corroborating forensics and a sloppy crime scene investigation;
  • Grossly inadequate representation at the trial and appellate levels, including failure of his court-appointed attorneys – one of whom had never tried a criminal case in court, let alone a capital murder case – to present any witnesses or mitigating evidence during the sentencing phase; and
  • Prosecutorial failure to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence to the defense.

Carlos Hernandez boasted for years around Corpus Christi that he committed the murder for which DeLuna, who he called his tocayo (twin or namesake), had taken the fall.  Indeed, the two Carloses looked so similar that their families mistook photos of the men for each other.

The execution of an innocent person represents the ultimate failure of our criminal justice system. That mistake is compounded when the real perpetrator remains free to commit more violent crimes. While DeLuna was on death row, Hernandez's violence against women continued and he eventually was sent back to prison, where he died in 1999.

Carlos DeLuna's wrongful conviction and execution highlight many of the flaws that persist in the broken death penalty system.  Since 1973, 140 people – including 12 in Texas – have been exonerated from death rows nationwide due to evidence of their wrongful conviction.  For most, it took decades to secure their exonerations.  

All of the factors that sent DeLuna to the execution chamber – faulty eyewitness testimony, shoddy legal representation, and prosecutorial misconduct – continue to put innocent people on death row today. Cameron Willingham, Ruben Cantu, Gary Graham, and Troy Davis, to name only a few, were executed despite doubts about their guilt.  

Los Tocayos Carlos is based on an 18-month investigation by Columbia Law School Professor James Liebman and a team of students.

To judge DeLuna's case for yourself, visit http://thewrongcarlos.net.  


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