I find it hard to believe that certain states in the union still uphold the death penalty. Argue all you will about the cost of keeping prisoners alive, overcrowded penitentiaries and the like, but nothing justifies the Draconian practice of taking a life in response to a criminal act, no matter how horrendous.
Even if you don’t object to the inherently moral flaw of upholding the death penalty, you would have to be made of stone to not be swayed in the slightest by the ever-constant possibility of executing an innocent person.
This is exactly what led a team of Columbia University researchers to begin inquiry into the case of Carlos DeLuna, a man in Texas who was executed in 1989 for a crime that he was convicted of six years prior in 1983.
DeLuna’s trial entailed all the facets of what was an open and shut case: a shattered alibi, witness testimony, prior criminal convictions. New research into the events of his alleged crime, however, suggests that the state of Texas may have indeed executed an innocent man — shocking, right?
Carlos DeLuna was arrested and charged with the murder of Wanda Lopez, an attendant at the Sigmor Shamrock gas station in Corpus Christi, Texas on Feb. 4, 1983. Police arrived at the station in response to a 911 call Lopez had placed in which she exclaimed that she was being assaulted by a man wielding a knife who was attempting to rob her.
After finding Lopez stabbed to death inside the gas station, police combing the surrounding area found DeLuna hiding underneath a pickup truck several blocks away. He was unarmed and had nothing on his person save for a rolled up wad of bills totaling $149.
Admittedly, presented with only this evidence I might also be quick to indict DeLuna as at least having had some involvement in the crime. New evidence brought to light by Professor James Liebman, however, contradicts this theory.
Liebman, a professor of law at Columbia University, in tandem with a team of his students, has recently published a report in Columbia Human Rights Law Review suggesting that DeLuna was in fact wrongfully convicted. Most surprisingly among Liebman’s reports are suggestions that various eyewitness testimonies used to convict DeLuna actually contradict one another in their description of the man seen at the scene of the crime, and that DeLuna was found without any blood on himself or his clothing, which the grisly nature of the murder would have ensured.
Liebman’s research implies that the killer most likely was actually a man named Carlos Hernandez. Hernandez was a close friend of DeLuna, who DeLuna claims was with him that night at a bar across from the gas station. DeLuna says that Hernandez went across the street to the gas station to purchase cigarettes. When DeLuna stepped outside he claims to have heard fighting and to have fled as to avoid involvement with police given his prior criminal record. The defense never managed to track down Carlos Hernandez.
This case is by no means unique in nature. According to The Huffington Post, there have been 1,295 executions since the Supreme Court reinstituted the death penalty in 1976. Texas is at the forefront of this, responsible as a state for a staggering 482 of those executions — roughly 37%.
This article only briefly outlines the points that Liebman’s report addresses suggesting that DeLuna was indeed wrongly executed. The document, over 400 pages in length, also contains reports published in The Chicago Tribune from 2006, in which multiple people close to Hernandez and DeLuna go on record as saying that Hernandez actually confided in them that he had indeed killed Lopez.
Hernandez died of cirrhosis of the liver in prison in 1999. There can be no justice for the wrongful execution of DeLuna until we as a nation work to abolish this terrible practice. I can only hope that our generation of youth will be better suited to issue policy regarding life and death matters than the one that preceded us. I know only one thing: If you intend to commit a crime, do so in the north.