- (Photo: Corpus Cristi Police Department)
An investigative report has found that the state of Texas wrongly sentenced to death and executed 27-year-old Carlos DeLuna in 1989, a grave mistake that has been described as "emblematic" of a failed legal system.
The case involves the Feb. 1983 killing of Wanda Lopez, a single mother who was stabbed in the gas station where she worked in the Texas coastal city of Corpus Christi.
DeLuna was accused of the murder and executed more than two decades ago after eyewitnesses identified him at the scene of the crime, but Columbia School of Law professor James Liebman and five of his students have found that the case had many signs that pointed to DeLuna, 27, not being the guilty man. According Liebman's report, DeLuna shared the same first name of, and physically resembled, the real killer – but their identities were mistaken.
DeLuna was put to death six years later after what Liebman describes as "a very incomplete investigation."
"No question that the investigation is a failure," the professor insists in a 780-page investigative report titled "Los Tocayos Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution." The law professor explains that it was another man, Carlos Hernandez, who committed the crime, but "everything went wrong in this case," which led to the wrong man being put to death by lethal injection.
As the lengthy report explains, Lopez called police for help on the night that she was murdered, saying that she was being attacked by a man with a switchblade.
The police were too late to save her, however, and forty minutes after the crime, they arrested DeLuna, whom they found not far from the gas station.
"They could have saved her, they said 'we made this arrest immediately' to overcome the embarrassment," Liebman explains.
Although eyewitness accounts pointed to contradictory evidence, DeLuna was arrested, while the real killer, Hernandez, apparently fled the scene of the crime and managed to escape.
Throughout his trial, DeLuna maintained his innocence, and even tried to help authorities by telling them that he had seen Hernandez entering the service station the night of the murder.
"I didn't do it, but I know who did," DeLuna expressed, sharing that the reason he initially ran from police was because he was out on parole and had been drinking.
Hernandez was later arrested for the same type of murder – he killed another woman with a switchblade knife. Yet, during DeLuna's trial, the lead prosecutor convinced the jury that DeLuna had simply imagined Hernandez.
According to the report, Hernandez confessed to have murdered Lopez many times until the day he died in prison of cirrhosis of the liver.
"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," a statement accompanying the report observes.
The Colombia University website includes extensive interviews with witnesses, relatives, and others involved in the case, sharing all the sources the professor and his team used to compile the extensive report.
The department's website also provides offenders' last statements. It lists DeLuna as saying: "I want to say I hold no grudges. I hate no one. I love my family. Tell everyone on death row to keep the faith and don't give up."
Just last month, Connecticut officially became the fifth U.S. state in the past five years to abolish the death penalty, citing fears of sending innocent people to death.