Los Tocayos Carlos: Texas Killed The Wrong Carlos

A man named Carlos killed a woman named Wanda Lopez. Texas executed a different man named Carlos for the crime.

A man named Carlos killed a woman named Wanda Lopez. Texas executed a different man named Carlos for the crime.

The Atlantic (“Yes, America, We Have Executed an Innocent Man“):

At 11 p.m Monday, the Columbia University Human Rights Review published and posted its Spring 2012 issue — devoted entirely to a single piece of work about the life and death of two troubled and troublesome South Texas men. In explaining to their readers why an entire issue would be devoted to just one story, the editors of the Review said straightly that the “gravity of the subject matter of the Article and the possible far-reaching policy ramifications of its publication necessitated this decision.”

The article is titled “Los Tocayos Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution” and it was written by James S. Liebman, Shawn Crowley, Andrew Markquart, Lauren Rosenberg, Lauren Gallo White, Lauren Rosenberg and Daniel Zharkovsky. Los Tacayos can be translated from Spanish as “namesakes” and the two men at the heart of the story were, indeed, named Carlos DeLuna and Carlos Hernandez.. On December 7, 1989, this intense piece establishes beyond any reasonable doubt, Texas executed the former for a murder the latter had committed.

The Review article is an astonishing blend of narrative journalism, legal research, and gumshoe detective work. And it ought to end all reasonable debate in this country about whether an innocent man or woman has yet been executed in America since the modern capital punishment regime was recognized by the Supreme Court in 1976. The article is also a clear and powerful retort to Justice Scalia in Kansas v. Marsh: Our capital cases don’t have nearly the procedural safeguards he wants to pretend they do.

Soon to be published as a book, Los Tacayos Carlos is a seminal piece of online advocacy as well. Not only is the article itself now available on the web in its entirety (at www.thewrongcarlos.net) but so are all of its supporting materials. “The web version of the Article contains approximately 3,469 footnotes,” the Review editors tell us, which in turn “provide hyperlinks to view the cited sources,” including a great deal of the evidence relevant to the case. Now, everyone in the world who is interested can learn how bad it all can go when human beings try to administer what’s supposed to be a fair, just and accurate death penalty.

[…]

Carlos DeLuna was executed in December 1989 for murdering Wanda Lopez in a February 1983 robbery in Corpus Christi. A jury convicted him in an afternoon of deliberation and sentenced him to death shortly thereafter. No appellate courts came to his rescue. And the six years it took from crime to execution was surprisingly — suspiciously — fast; nationwide, it’s usually twice that long.

Texas convicted and executed DeLuna, all right, despite the fact that there was no blood or DNA evidence linking him to the scene of the crime. The state executed him despite the fact that the only eyewitness to the crime identified DeLuna while the suspect was sitting in the back of a police car parked in a dimly lit lot in front of the crime scene. Texas executed him despite the lack of DeLuna’s fingerprints at the crime scene and the lack of the victim’s hair and fibers on DeLuna. From a bloody scene, there was nothing.

exas convicted and executed DeLuna despite the fact that the police and prosecutors knew or should have known that Lopez’s real murderer was a man named Carlos Hernandez, a violent criminal who looked almost exactly like DeLuna. Why? Because Hernandez was known to use the sort of knife used as the murder weapon. Because he matched initial descriptions of the suspect. Because he was known to be violent toward women. Oh, and because he evidently couldn’t stop bragging about how he had murdered Lopez and gotten someone else to take the fall for him.

“… [It] is no overstatement to call it ‘common knowledge’ in 1980s Corpus Christi that Carlos Gonzalez Hernandez killed Wanda Lopez,” Liebman and Co. conclude. Yet Texas executed DeLuna despite the fact that key evidence in the case went missing both before and after trial; that DeLuna initially was appointed a lawyer without criminal law experience; and that law enforcement failed to provide the defense with exculpatory evidence. Any one of these factors might warrant a new trial. Taken together they portray appalling injustice.

[…]

DeLuna was reportedly slow as a child and tested as mildly mentally retarded as a juvenile. Later, he was in and out of trouble with the law until he was found (and was perhaps beaten) by the police on the night of the Lopez murder. There is great doubt even today that he fully understood the magnitude of the trouble he was in, even as he was nearing the end in 1989, which is why he made such a perfect patsy for Carlos Hernandez.

The ultimate villain of this awful story, Hernandez died in prison, in 1999, boasting to the end that he had killed Wanda Lopez and allowed another man to take the fall for it. The cops knew this. The prosecutors knew or should have known it. Witnesses knew it. And yet no one did anything to stop the state executioners from carrying out their job. Why no one listened to Hernandez for all those years, and why no one hears the cries of others today, is a question Justice Scalia and many others have to answer for themselves.

Presumably, authorities weren’t overly motivated by the plight of a poor, Hispanic career offender.

via Laura Seay

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Quick Takes
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. This would be at least the second time Texas has executed an innocent man. that we know of.

    The most prominent case before this was that of Cameron Todd Willingham and there are also serious doubts now about the guilt of Claude Jones, who was executed in 1989..

  2. Brian Williams: Governor Perry a question about Texas. Your state has executed 234 death row inmates more than any other governor in modern times. Have you struggled to sleep at night with the idea that any one of those might have been innocent?

    Rick Perry: No sir. I’ve never struggled with that at all.

  3. Hey Norm says:

    I say all supporters of the death penalty should be immediately imprisoned for life without the possibility of parole.
    The un-avoidable facts in evidence:
    1). They have conspired to kill at least one innocent man.
    2). They will inevitably kill another innocent man/woman.
    3). They are un-repentent in their ways.
    It’s damn easy to be for the death penalty when there are no consequences for your errors.

  4. @Hey Norm:

    While I have no problem with the death penalty in theory, it is something that, like most things, I don’t trust the government to administer properly.

  5. Hey Norm says:

    @ Stormy..
    I know…that’s one of the great hypocrisies of the right-wing extremists…we don’t trust the Government to do anything…but we trust them to judge a man and put him to death. *
    Jesus-god they are so f’ing clueless.
    (* I think someone else made that point recently…I just can’t remember who. Maybe Jon Stewart?)

  6. Hey Norm says:

    I remember Bush laughing about people he had put to death as Governor.
    You can damn well bet Rick Perry would change his tune if there were to be consequences for his actions.
    And these people claim to be Christians. What a joke.

  7. merl says:

    Texas doesn’t care about innocence or guilt. they just want to kill someone for whatever crime. Usually black or Hispanic.

  8. Tsar Nicholas says:

    The death penalty has been an integral component of criminal justice throughout recorded history. Long after we’ve all turned to dust it’ll still be an integral component of the criminal justice system, despite the best efforts of the likes of Columbia Law School. The benefits to society outweigh whatever focal injustices can be found. Corpses don’t have recidivism rates and the hallmark of any sound criminal justice system is that of punishment, not rehabilitation nor social engineering.

    Are there flaws in the system? Yes, there are, no question. That doesn’t mean, however, you throw out the whole system. By way of analogy there are fundamental flaws with representative democracies. That doesn’t mean totalitarianism is any better.

    What I’ve always suggested concerning the death penalty to those on university campuses is to focus on improving the system as opposed to ending it. The former might actually accomplish something; the latter is idealistic folly.

    Rather than devoting tens of thousands of man hours writing multi-hundred page tomes in their memory, by way of example, the likes of Carlos DeLuna would be better served by having competent and dedicated death penalty appeal and writ attorneys at their disposal. Ironically enough, however, you can’t be a dedicated and competent death penalty appeal and writ attorney from the cushy confines of the academe. I’m not sure the academe in that regard even would be able to grasp the irony.

  9. Hey Norm says:

    “…What I’ve always suggested concerning the death penalty to those on university campuses is to focus on improving the system as opposed to ending it…”

    Man is an imperfect beast. That will never change. The death penalty rests on an assumption of perfection.
    Out of one side of right-wing extremist mouths comes the trope that abortion is murder and every life is precious. Out of the other side “…Are there flaws in the system? Yes, there are, no question. That doesn’t mean, however, you throw out the whole system…”
    As I said…the hypocrisy is awe inspiring.

  10. @Tsar Nicholas:

    tl;dr: since I’m not an egg, I don’t care how the omlette gets made.

  11. Curtis says:

    All that will happen in response to this article is that the wrongly executed man will be demonized the same way Cameron Todd Willingham has been. Even if he didn’t actually kill his children, he was a bad guy who had previously hit his wife. So therefore it is okay that we killed him.

    This guy was “in and out of trouble with the law.” So the same thing will happen to him.

    Plus, this was so long ago, procedures are so much better now. That whole thing couldn’t happen today.

    So it is still okay to be for the death penalty, even if offing those guys was regrettable.

  12. Franklin says:

    The benefits to society outweigh whatever focal injustices can be found.

    By all means feel free to enumerate the benefits over life imprisonment. Since you are sounding so practical today, don’t forget to mention the cost differences (execution costs far more).

    And this whole idea that we’ll never get rid of it so stop trying … have you actually checked the laws of the various states and countries? A significant percentage have already eliminated it.

    BTW, I have no problems theoretically with the death penalty, except for the part where it can’t be undone.

  13. Hey Norm says:

    @ Franklin….
    Indeed…Connecticut just got rid of it.
    Of course we also just allowed the sale of liquor on Sunday…so we’re a little slow arriving to the 19th century.

  14. PogueMahone says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:
    Are there flaws in the system? Yes, there are, no question. That doesn’t mean, however, you throw out the whole system. By way of analogy there are fundamental flaws with representative democracies. That doesn’t mean totalitarianism is any better.

    I have a strong desire to hang your straw-man, that’s for sure.

    Ironically enough, however, you can’t be a dedicated and competent death penalty appeal and writ attorney from the cushy confines of the academe. I’m not sure the academe in that regard even would be able to grasp the irony.

    You have no idea how many law professors and law students that have volunteered their time, energy, and money to help those who have wrongly been convicted, do you?
    Of course not.

    Btw, what the hell have you done to help those wrongly convicted?

  15. @Franklin:

    By all means feel free to enumerate the benefits over life imprisonment. Since you are sounding so practical today, don’t forget to mention the cost differences (execution costs far more).

    I will second that motion.

  16. Franklin says:

    @Hey Norm: I get burned by something similar about twice a year in Michigan … we can’t buy alcohol before noon on Sunday. It seems I’m always doing last-minute shopping for family get-togethers on Sunday … and getting denied at checkout. Because what? Because I’m not at church like a good boy? I have no idea what these laws were meant for.

  17. Neil Hudelson says:

    By all means feel free to enumerate the benefits
    over life imprisonment. Since you are sounding so
    practical today, don’t forget to mention the cost
    differences (execution costs far more).

    And queue Tsar Nicky running away.

    It should be easy for him. Didnt he claim to be a lawyer at one point?

  18. merl says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: The benefits to society of executing an innocent man? I think it would be funny as hell if that happened to people like you.

  19. Anderson says:

    The Tsar’s appeal to tradition also legitimizes slavery, torture, and wife-beating. That’s quite an argument.

  20. merl says:

    @Curtis: We?