by Jeremy Leaming
With an increasing number of states dispensing with or reconsidering capital punishment, the Columbia Human Rights Law Review (HRLR) has released an exhaustive issue, which should push more state lawmakers to join the discussion. The HRLR issue provides compelling and highly troubling documentation of the likely wrongful 1989 Texas execution of Carlos DeLuna.
As Andrew Cohen writes for the Atlantic the HRLR’s issue, “an astonishing blend of narrative journalism, legal research, and gumshoe detective work,” should be read, especially by Justice Antonin Scalia, who in a 2006 concurrence staunchly defended the integrity of capital punishment cases, saying they are “given especially close scrutiny at every level ….”
Since being reinstituted in the United States, Texas has executed more inmates than all other states, except for California and Florida, where the death row populations are higher. In the last five years, however, five states have chosen to abolish capital punishment, with Connecticut the most recent. Californians in November will consider a ballot measure to end the death penalty.
HRLR’s issue called Los Tocayos Carlos, provides a stunning account of a criminal justice system gone terribly awry, with prosecutors, witnesses, judges all faltering in ways that tragically bungled a capital punishment case. While these officials and actors ignored evidence to the contrary, the likely perpetrator, Carlos Hernandez, continued a life of violent crime after DeLuna was convicted and sitting on death row.
In a press release about the report, Columbia Law School Professor James Liebman, and lead author of the issue, said, “Carlos DeLuna’s execution passed with little notice. No one cared enough about the defendant or the victim [Wanda Lopez stabbed to death working at a convenience mart in Corpus Christi] to make sure they caught the right guy. Everything that could go wrong in a death penalty case did go wrong for DeLuna. Sadly, DeLuna’s story is not unique. The very same factors that sent DeLuna to his death – faulty eyewitness testimony, shoddy legal representation, prosecutorial misfeasance – continue to put innocent people at risk of execution today.”