Through extensive research, Columbia Law School Professor James Liebman and a team of his students have uncovered evidence that shows that Carlos DeLuna, a poor Hispanic man who was executed in Texas in 1989, was likely innocent. Their article, Los Tocayos Carlos, and accompanying website was published today in the Columbia University Human Rights Law Review.
Carlos DeLuna appears to have been the victim of a case of mistaken identity. He was convicted, sentenced to death, and executed based on testimony of a single witness, with no corroborating forensics. After the 1983 stabbing death of Wanda Lopez in Corpus Christi, police arrested DeLuna. However, a police audiotape that Professor Liebman’s team discovered was suppressed at the time of trial reveals that police first chased another man matching the description of Carlos Hernandez, who had a long history of violent crimes.
DeLuna maintained his innocence and insisted that they had gotten the wrong Carlos. Hernandez even bragged for years around Corpus Christi that he had committed the murder and that DeLuna, whom he called his tocayo (twin or namesake) took the fall for it. The two men looked so similar that even their friends and family couldn’t easily tell their photos apart.
Unfortunately, we know that such tragedies are not unique. Cameron Todd Willingham and Troy Davis, among others, have also been executed despite strong doubts about their guilt. Our system is riddled with flaws like unreliable eyewitness identification, inadequate legal representation, and prosecutorial misconduct that continues to put the innocent at risk of being executed. And, when the wrong person is convicted, that means that the perpetrator is still free, left to do more harm. While DeLuna was on death row, Hernandez stabbed and attempted to rape another woman. For these reasons and more, we must end the death penalty.
(Photo: Carlos DeLuna from Corpus Christi Police Dept. via The Atlantic)