A new report by a team of investigators concludes that the state of Texas likely executed an innocent man named Carlos DeLuna in 1989. He was convicted because he looked like the one who really committed the murder, and despite a good deal of evidence that he was innocent.
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, 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…
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 mustache and was wearing a grey flannel shirt.
Even though witnesses 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.
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.
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.
This is surely not the first innocent man executed in Texas, let alone in other states.