Wrongly Executed and Forgotten for 23 Years
Thursday, May 17, 2012
Carlos DeLuna (Photo: Corpus Christi Police Department)
Three decades after the wrongful execution of Carlos DeLuna, the Columbia Human Rights Law Review (HRLR) has devoted its entire spring issue to evidence proving the 26-year-old was not guilty of the crime of which he was accused.
In February 1983, DeLuna was arrested at age 20 for the stabbing murder of a young woman, Wanda Lopez, in Corpus Christi, Texas. The young man insisted that he was innocent and that another man, Carlos Hernandez, had killed Lopez.
Hernandez and DeLuna looked a lot alike, so much so that they could have been twins—and DeLuna had seen Hernandez committing the crime. But DeLuna was the one caught running from the area.
After a cursory hunt for Hernandez, police decided he did not exist and scrambled to wrap up the case. Despite his consistent protestations of innocence, DeLuna was killed by lethal injection in 1989.
Chaplain Carroll Pickett, who officiated at 95 executions, said that only DeLuna’s led him to seek psychiatric help. For one thing, DeLuna’s actions after the murder did not fit those of a murderer. Instead of running as far away as possible, DeLuna was found cowering underneath a truck just a block away. In addition, according to the HRLR report, “Pickett was also haunted by his belief that the anesthetic in the mixture of drugs injected into DeLuna’s vein had failed, so the terrified young man was awake as the other drugs paralyzed him and slowly suffocated him to death. Reverend Pickett has since become an outspoken critic of the death penalty.”
Hernandez died in prison in 1999 for an unrelated crime, after bragging for years that he had murdered Wanda Lopez.
This fact and numerous others were uncovered law professor James Liebman and 12 students, whose work fills up the 436 pages of the HRLR.
Liebman began investigating the DeLuna case in 2004, and with the help of his law students, chased down numerous leads, and interviewed more than 100 witnesses.
An expert in capital punishment cases, Liebman said the case turned out to be “a house of cards. We found that everything that could go wrong did go wrong,” he told The Guardian.
In the past 30 years, some 482 people have been executed in Texas.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, Vicki Baker
To Learn More:
The Wrong Carlos: How Texas Sent An Innocent Man To His Death (by Ed Pilkington, The Guardian)
Yes, America, We Have Executed an Innocent Man (by Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic)
Los Tocayos Carlos (Columbia Human Rights Law Review)
Los Tocayos Carlos Table of Contents (Columbia Human Rights Law Review)
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