Syndicated columnist Robyn Blumner writes, "When the state kills the innocent," for the Tampa Bay Times. It's also available as, "Innocents have been executed via the Columbus Dispatch and Tribune Media Services. It's a must-read.
If you’re reading this in a comfortable, middle-class home, what happened to Carlos DeLuna almost certainly could never happen to you.
But everyone should care about DeLuna’s story because it lays bare America’s broken “machinery of death,” to quote former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun. After decades on the bench, Blackmun finally stopped upholding death sentences. He said the potential for error is too great in a system “fraught with arbitrariness, discrimination, caprice and mistake.”
DeLuna was a poor Hispanic nobody with a criminal record who was executed in Texas for a crime he didn’t commit. The system in Texas does not go out of its way for people like DeLuna. He was put to death in 1989 for the 1983 knife slaying of Wanda Lopez at a convenience store where she worked in Corpus Christi.
When DeLuna was arrested a short time after the murder, there wasn’t even a microscopic drop of blood on his clothes or shoes, despite a crime scene where Lopez’s blood was splattered on walls and pooled on the floor. A man’s bloody footprint at the scene was never measured by detectives to find a match.
Had police, prosecutors or defense lawyers done their job, they would have uncovered evidence pointing to another man. Carlos Hernandez was a knife-toting violent felon who told multiple witnesses that he had committed the Lopez crime. Hernandez died in prison in 1999 of cirrhosis of the liver.
In 2006, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia argued that because mistaken convictions have been uncovered, America’s death penalty is justified. He declared with relish that the system of procedural safeguards actually works because no innocent person, “not one,” has been wrongfully put to death. If there has been, Scalia wrote, “we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops by the abolition lobby.”
Excuse us, Justice Scalia, but here are two: Carlos DeLuna and Cameron Todd Willingham. These are two men whose stories should lead all of us to conclude, as Justice Blackmun did, that America’s death-penalty experiment has failed.
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers interviews Columbia Law prof. James Liebman in a podcast. You can listen at the link.
Earlier coverage Carlos DeLuna and the Columbia HRLR acticle is at the link. You can read the full article at The Wrong Carlos.