New website chronicles 1989 wrongful execution of TX Latino because of mistaken identity

LatinaLista — Critics of the death penalty have ample ammunition to prove their case when using Texas as an example. The state has become almost as widely known for its exonerations as its executions.

One case that is drawing renewed interest is the execution of Carlos DeLuna from Corpus Christi, Texas. DeLuna was arrested in 1983, tried and executed for murdering a single mother named Wanda Lopez. Yet, DeLuna always maintained his innocence and pled people to believe that his was a case of mistaken identity. The real murderer was a guy with a violent record, who happened to resemble (people say) DeLuna, named Carlos Hernandez.

The Texas judicial system didn’t buy it and executed DeLuna in 1989.

Now, 23 years after his death, Columbia Law School Professor James Liebman and his students have wrapped up their 18-month study of the DeLuna case. They’ve compiled police photos, court files, taped witness interviews and 911 recordings and have documented their findings in a comprehensive report for the Columbia Human Rights Law Review (HRLR).

But the story doesn’t stop here.

The editors of the HRLR were so impressed with the depth of information that the professor and his students compiled, their conclusion and its impact on policy that they broke with standard practice and devoted the entire issue (Issue 3 of Volume 43) to the DeLuna report.

And that still isn’t all.

The full report, complete with video interviews, crime-scene photos, court records, an interactive map and audio recordings, is online and can be found at Los Tacayos Carlos.

On the site, the professor and his students pose a basic question to visitors: Did Texas execute an innocent man?

Reminiscent of those “48 Hours” and “Dateline” programs where viewers are walked through the crime scene, introduced to the players, hear the verdict and see the final outcome, visitors to the site can play arm-chair detective and review the complete trove of evidence gathered by Liebman and his students — and arrive at their own conclusion.

The hope of the report’s authors, as well as the editors, is that people will see that not only is human life fragile but the justice system that can determine anyone’s fate.

Los Tocayos Carlos poignantly reveals how easily our legal system can fail to produce just outcomes even without the deliberate interference of individuals acting in bad faith and how the consequences of such failures can be irrevocable and, at times, fatal…At a minimum, we hope that this breathtaking story will be an adequate answer to those who question whether it is possible that an innocent man has ever been executed for a crime he did not commit in the United States. — 2011–2012 Editorial Board, Columbia Human Rights Law Review

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