A Columbia University law professor and his team of students believe that Carlos DeLune was executed by the state of Texas despite being innocent. DeLuna was convicted of murdering a gas station attendant in 1983. In 1989 he was killed by lethal injection. But professor James Liebman says he was innocent of the crime.
In their report, published in the Human Rights Law Review a few weeks ago, Liebman and his team cite “shoddy police work, the prosecution’s failure to pursue another suspect, and a weak defense,” as reasons he was convicted, according to the Huffington Post.
Would DeLuna be the first innocent man to be executed in Texas? That’s debatable. “There are many cases out there that nobody has ever looked at and are probably at risk of innocence,” said Professor Liebman. “It’s a cautionary tale about the risks we take when we have the death penalty.”
In this case, like many others that have been cleared by DNA exonerations, eyewitness identification played a crucial role in the conviction. But unlike exonerations, there was no DNA evidence and physical evidence, like fingerprints, collected by police at the scene of the crime was so poorly handled, tests on it were inconclusive.
The murder involved what police characterized as a “robbery gone wrong.” Following the murder of the store clerk, single mother Wanda Lopez, DeLuna was found hiding underneath a car nearby, he was immediately the prime suspect.
Testimony from several different witnesses that night was conflicting. But they did describe a man who looked like a “vagrant” and who was “disheveled”, wearing a flannel jacket. DeLuna was always dressed to the nines and was wearing a dress shirt and slacks the night of the murder.
Furthermore, the messy crime scene and bloody footprints would indicate at least some blood on the suspect’s shoes and possibly their clothing. DeLuna was clean.
The man that DeLuna said he was drinking with that night, Carlos Hernandez, was known to wear a flannel jacket and his family said that the knife recovered from the scene bared a striking resemblance to a knife Hernandez carried with him. Hernandez also had a history of violence against women.
According to the Huffington Post:
Among the key findings in the Columbia team’s report:
- The eyewitness statements actually conflict with each other. What witnesses said about the appearance and location of the suspect suggest that they were describing more than one person.
- Photos of a bloody footprint and blood spatter on the walls suggest the killer would have had blood on his shoes and pant legs, yet DeLuna’s clothes were clean.
- Prosecutors and police ignored tips unearthed in the case files that Carlos Hernandez, an older friend of DeLuna, who had a reputation for wielding a blade, had killed Lopez. The defense failed to track down Hernandez, who bore a striking resemblance to DeLuna.
Innocent people do get convicted of crimes from time to time and there’s a pretty good chance that the state of Texas, with their long list of executions, has killed at least one more (see Cameron Todd Willingham for more information).
If you are accused of an offense that you didn’t commit, it can be very frightening to think of the possible sentence you could be handed despite your innocence. Even for a minor criminal charge, you could be slapped with a permanent criminal conviction on your record, not to mention a jail sentence. Contact our attorneys today to discuss your case and what can be done to avoid a conviction.