20 May 2012

Did Texas execute yet another innocent man?

A recent study by the Columbia Human Rights Law Review suggests that Carlos DeLuna, who was executed by the state of Texas in 1989 for the murder of Wanda Lopez, was actually innocent. The study concluded that a man named Carlos Hernandez actually committed the murder. In other words, the so-called justice system had convicted the wrong Carlos.

According to the report, Hernandez "was well-known to police and prosecutors at the time and had a long history of violent crimes." In fact, Hernandez was arrested for another murder while DeLuna was on death row, and died in prison in 1999, after having admitted that he killed Lopez.

Nevertheless, the report states, "After [police] arrested DeLuna, they were so sure they had the right man, they never bothered to ascertain his height, weight or age or to compare them to the information from eyewitness Baker. Their commanding officers never requested that information, either. In fact, DeLuna was ... younger than the man [a witness] described."

"On evidence we pulled together on this case, there is no way a jury could have convicted De-Luna beyond a reasonable doubt, but they could've convicted Hernandez beyond a reasonable doubt," said Columbia Professor James Liebman, who conducted the study along with his students.

Perhaps even more disturbing is the fact that this isn't the only case we know of in which Texas probably executed an innocent man.

The most famous such case is that of Cameron Todd Willingham, who made headlines in 2009 when The New Yorker published an investigative article on the case. Willingham was executed in 2004 for setting a fire that killed his three daughters. However, a forensic review of the case led to the conclusion that "a finding of arson could not be sustained." In other words, the fatal fire for which Willingham was executed was probably just an accident.

A decade before Willingham's execution, Ruben Montoya Cantu was put to death in Texas for a murder that occurred when Cantu was 17 years old. According to Wikipedia, "During the years following the conviction, the surviving victim, the co-defendant, the District Attorney, and the jury forewoman have all made public statements that cast doubt on Cantu's guilty verdict and death sentence."

In 2009, Texas executed Reginald Blanton despite numerous flaws in the prosecution's case and the trial itself. Blanton had been convicted of fatally shooting his friend, Carlos Garza, and then stealing $79 worth of jewelry from Garza's home, where the murder took place. According to Randi Jones of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, "Reginald's case exemplifies serious prosecutorial misconduct. They systematically excluded African Americans from the jury pool." Jones also noted that there was no physical evidence linking Blanton to the crime, and that Blanton was forced to rely on an incompetent public defender who failed to present evidence of innocence at the original trial.

This is not justice.

The legal system is run by human beings, and human beings make mistakes. And they can make mistakes in matters of life and death, as in the cases described above.

Is this not sufficient reason to abolish the irreversible punishment that is the death penalty?

The full Columbia report on the DeLuna case can be found online at: http://www3.law.columbia.edu/hrlr/ltc/

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