Texas Likely Executed an Innocent Man

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.

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  • unbound

    “This is surely not the first innocent man executed in Texas, let alone in other states.”

    Almost certainly not. Yet it doesn’t seem to bother the good, morale xtian churches enough to push for resolution of that issue.

    Those blastocysts, on the other hand, need urgent legislative protection now!!

  • jufulu

    When I booted up this morning I came across this: Study: 2,000 convicted then exonerated in 23 years.


    Our system is broken and we don’t seem to be in a great hurry to fix it.

  • Alverant

    What’s with this “likely” business? There’s no “likely” about it. One Carlos admitted to the crime and another Carlos was executed. Worst thing is that this won’t help anyone. Those supporting CP will brush this off saying that things have improved in the past 20 years (leaving out how any improvements were due to anti-CP organizations) or claim that Luna was here illegally or did some other crime no one knew about so deserved being killed anyway.

  • Cunning Pam

    If this story doesn’t make you weep, the story of Cameron Todd Willingham will.


  • Desert Son, OM


    In PZ’s thread on this same topic, I posted some stats from an article I found in the Texas Law Review about research into death penalty cases nationwide.

    I’ll cross-post from there (this was my comment #46 in the thread at Pharyngula:

    Cross-Post Starts Here:

    According to Liebman, Fagan, West, and Lloyd (2000):

    The most common errors found at the state post-conviction stage (where our data are most complete) are (1) egregiously incompetent defense lawyering (accounting for 37% of the state post-conviction reversals), and (2) prosecutorial suppression of evidence that the defendant is innocent or does not deserve the death penalty (accounting for another 16%–or 19%, when all forms of law enforcement misconduct are considered). (p. 1850)

    Note, Liebman et al.’s study examined all states with death penalty practice, not just Texas. More statistics from their findings:

    Among the twenty-six death-sentencing jurisdictions in which at least one case has been reviewed in both the state and federal courts and in which information about all three judicial inspection stages is available:

    1. 24 (92%) have overall error rates of 52% or higher;

    2. 22 (85%) have overall errors rates of 60% or higher;

    3. 15 (61%) have overall error rates of 70% or higher.

    4. Among other states, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Indiana, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Montana, Arizona, and California have overall error rates of 75% or higher. (Liebman et al., 2000, p. 1853)

    And then there’s the following, which is kind of the central to the article:

    The 68% rate of capital error found by the three stage inspection process is much higher than the < 15% rate of error those same three inspections evidently discover in noncapital criminal cases. (Liebman et al., 2000, p. 1854)

    So, the error rate in capital criminal cases is more than four times that of the error rate in non-captial criminal cases. As Liebman et al. (2000) note in their conclusion:

    If the issue was the fabrication of toasters . . . or the licensing of automobile drivers, or the conduct of any other private- or public-sector activity, neither the consuming public nor managers and investors would tolerate the error rates and attendant costs that dozens of states and the nation as a whole have tolerated in their capital punishment systems over the course of decades. Any system with this much error and expense would be halted immediately, examined, and either reformed or scrapped. We ask taxpayers, public managers, and policymakers whether that same response is warranted here, when the issue is not the content and quality of tomorrow’s breakfast but whether society has a swift and sure response to murder and whether thousands of men and women condemned for that crime in fact deserve to die. (Liebman et al., 2000, p. 1865)

    Bold emphasis mine.

    Cross-Post Ends Here.

    I also included in the comment at PZ’s a link to the Wikipedia article on the Rage Against the Machine song “Killing in the Name” but to minimize the links in this post I’m leaving that portion out. The relevant stats are above. Reference follows my close, if you’re interested in looking up the article.

    Still learning,




    Liebman, J. S., Fagan, J., West, V., & Lloyd, J. (2000). Capital attrition: Error rates in capital cases, 1973-1995. Texas Law Review, 78(7), 1839-1865.

  • blindrobin

    Business as usual when dealing with them what ain’t us real Texans. If they’s actin’ up just cull one from the herd to help keep’em in line. It don’t much matter which one cuz they’s all the same and the less of’em the better.

  • d cwilson

    It’s Texas. Executing a few innocent men here and there to make sure everyone knows they mean business is considered a feature, not a bug.

  • meboat

    At law school there was a criminal law professor who reminded us that if you convict an innocent person, by default, you have let the guilty one go free. This is another, albeit less important reason, not to wrongly convict someone. It also contradicts some of the gung-ho types who say “that the person was guilty of something anyway so they deserve to be convicted even if they didn’t do this particular crime.”

  • lancifer

    When arguing against the death penalty I often bring up the issue of executing innocents. I have never heard a rational or human answer to this objection.

    In my opinion there is no rational or humane response.