Wrong man was executed, US probe says

2012-05-15 10:01

Washington - He was the spitting image of the killer, had the same first name and was near the scene of the crime at the fateful hour: Carlos DeLuna paid the ultimate price and was executed in place of someone else in Texas in 1989, a report out on Tuesday found.

Even "all the relatives of both Carloses mistook them", and DeLuna was sentenced to death and executed based only on eyewitness accounts despite a range of signs he was not a guilty man, said law professor James Liebman.

Liebman and five of his students at Columbia School of Law spent almost five years poring over details of a case that he says is "emblematic" of legal system failure.

DeLuna, aged 27, was put to death after "a very incomplete investigation. No question that the investigation is a failure", Liebman said.

The report's authors found "numerous missteps, missed clues and missed opportunities that let authorities prosecute Carlos DeLuna for the crime of murder, despite evidence not only that he did not commit the crime but that another individual, Carlos Hernandez, did", the 780-page investigation found.

The report, entitled "Los Tocayos Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution", traces the facts surrounding the February 1983 murder of Wanda Lopez, a single mother who was stabbed in the gas station where she worked in a quiet corner of the Texas coastal city of Corpus Christi.

Contradictory witness accounts

"Everything went wrong in this case," Liebman said.

That night Lopez called police for help twice to protect her from an individual with a switchblade.

"They could have saved her, they said 'we made this arrest immediately' to overcome the embarrassment," Liebman said.

Forty minutes after the crime Carlos DeLuna was arrested not far from the gas station.

He was identified by only one eyewitness who saw a Hispanic male running from the gas station. But DeLuna had just shaved and was wearing a white dress shirt - unlike the killer, who an eyewitness said had a moustache and was wearing a grey flannel shirt.

Even though witness accounts were contradictory - the killer was seen fleeing towards the north, while DeLuna was caught in the east - DeLuna was arrested.

"I didn't do it, but I know who did," DeLuna said at the time, saying that he saw Carlos Hernandez entering the service station.

Phantom of the imagination

DeLuna said he ran from police because he was on parole and had been drinking.

Hernandez, known for using a blade in his attacks, was later jailed for murdering a woman with the same knife. But in the trial, the lead prosecutor told the jury that Hernandez was nothing but a "phantom" of DeLuna's imagination.

DeLuna's budget attorney even said that it was probable that Carlos Hernandez never existed.

However in 1986 a local newspaper published a photograph of Hernandez in an article on the DeLuna case, Liebman said.

Following hasty trial DeLuna was executed by lethal injection in 1989.

Up to the day he died in prison of cirrhosis of the liver, Hernandez repeatedly admitted to murdering Wanda Lopez, Liebman said.

"Unfortunately, the flaws in the system that wrongfully convicted and executed DeLuna - faulty eyewitness testimony, shoddy legal representation and prosecutorial misconduct - continue to send innocent men to their death today," read a statement that accompanies the report.

  • Schmee - 2012-05-15 10:30

    Hope this is a wake-up call to all those in favour of bringing back the death penalty in South Africa. Our police don't have a very good track record with investigations either. Imagine if this was your innocent son.

      Wendy - 2012-05-15 10:52

      I agree with you my friend death penalty is wrong it will never be cool .

      Antwahn - 2012-05-15 11:04

      Right. To be falsely arrested for refusing to pay a bribe is one thing -but to be put to death for this, would be stretching it. No death-penalty in SA, please. The chances that the SAPS clowns catch the death-deserving scum, is smaller than 10% anyway.

  • phinda.buthelezi - 2012-05-15 10:45

    and this marks the death of the death penalty in the US.

  • John - 2012-05-15 11:24

    I am not against the death penalty on any human rights issues. I think murderers deserve everything they get. I am against the death penalty for things like this. You cannot perdon a dead man, if a mistake has been made.

  • Mhla - 2012-05-15 11:31

    yhooo . . . I can imagine when no one speaks for u & all people against u while u know that u didnt do it . . that must have been a real painful death for this person . . .Put yoself in his position while u have the dreams u have for yo future . . .Then u will make good decision if death pernalty should be brought back . .

  • Wynand - 2012-05-15 11:44

    I still say bring back the death penalty in South africa!!!!!

      Schmee - 2012-05-15 12:51

      Yes Wynand, you won't get it until it happens to you.

  • Wynand - 2012-05-15 11:44

    I still say bring back the death penalty in South africa!!!!!

  • Zimbobwe - 2012-05-15 11:52

    Innocent people will be executed. Think Malema, he would be dead by now for standing up to drie kop!!! Malema is very brave and one day he will be president and that is the scary part.

  • Jill - 2012-05-15 13:48

    Very tragic story and confirms to me once again with my decision of being against the death penalty - Abraham Lincoln once said " better that 9 guilty men should go free than 1 innocent be hanged" -

  • rosiegracebrooks - 2012-05-15 14:10

    And this is why I am so against the death penalty in RSA. Can you imagine the absolute mess ups the incompetence of the government and police would cause when you read something like this? Scary. If people want the death penalty, they want to put that responsibility into the hands of the SAPS?

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