We have expressed our concerns about Texas’s death penalty on a number of occasions. The state executes more prisoners than any other in the United States and with more than 470 executions being carried out from 1976 to 2011, the chances of a mistake being made are elevated.
According to a new article in Columbia University’s Columbia Human Rights Law Review that’s exactly what happened in 1989 when Texas convicted and executed the wrong man.
The article summarizes research carried out by Jim Liebman, a Columbia law professor, and six of his students, that casts doubt on the execution.
Liebman and his investigators and students interviewed more than 100 witnesses and searched numerous documents. The 400 page article examined the arrest, prosecution and subsequent execution of Carlos DeLuna in the 1983 death of Wanda Lopez, upi.com reported. The victim was stabbed to death during a robbery at a Corpus Christi gas station.
The Columbia Human Rights Law Review said in its prosecution of DeLuna, the state ignored Carlos Hernandez, a man who the article said had boasted about killing Lopez and later laughed about the conviction of DeLuna.
The article cited Hernandez’s sinister record. It said he claimed to have strangled and mutilated a young woman, but was never convicted of the crime. He served jail time for a number of convenience store robberies and for slicing a female friend’s belly from her sternum to her navel. Hernandez died in prison in 1996 after he attacked a woman with a knife.
The authors of the new article point to his physical resemblance to DeLuna, a friend of Hernandez, who was described as “childlike” and a “follower.” His past convictions were for auto theft and attempted rape.
The researchers highlighted how investigators had very different descriptions of the gas station robber.
“Witnesses at the station identified DeLuna as the culprit when police took him back to the station in a patrol car. But the only witness who saw Lopez struggling with the robber told journal authors he was only 70 percent sure of the identification and if police had not told him DeLuna had been caught nearby, he would have been only 50 percent sure,” upi.com reported.
While the victim bled profusely, DeLuna’s body and clothing contained no trace of blood, the article said.
The article said investigators did not take shoe prints and compare them to De Luna’s shoes. Liebman said they also contaminated fingerprint evidence.
Liebman told ABC News the case raised wider issues about the Texas death penalty because it was an “everyday case.”
“It contributes to the wider debate about what the risks [of the death penalty] are to human life,” he said.
Last year we highlighted how the Troy Davis case revealed alarming problems with the ultimate punishment. The research related to the execution of Carlos DeLuna, raises further worrying questions about whether an innocent man was put to death.