Killing The Innocent With Indifference


Carlos DeLuna was executed by the state of Texas in 1989. A new study by Columbia University could prove his innocence.

The USA has almost certainly executed innocent men in the so called “modern” era of capital punishment, since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. One of them may have been Carlos DeLuna, who was put to death in Texas in 1989 for the killing of gas station attendant Wanda Lopez in Corpus Christi.

Today, a comprehensive report and website by James Liebman and a team of students in the Columbia University Human Rights Law Review makes a compelling case for DeLuna’s innocence.

To explain how this wrongful conviction and execution could have happened Liebman et al. point to the

“failure of lawyers on the defense as well as the prosecution side to have the curiosity and gumption to look just an inch or two below the surface.”

This is an all-too common occurrence, argue the authors, when there is a general indifference to an “obscure” victim like Wanda Lopez, making such cases “ripe for miscarriage” of justice.

This report, Los Tocayos Carlos, follows on the heels of an investigation by the Chicago Tribune, amplified by the film At the Death House Door, which already made it fairly clear that Texas authorities had the wrong Carlos.

Carlos Hernandez was the other Carlos, the man Carlos DeLuna said had stabbed Wanda Lopez. At trial, prosecutors declared that Hernandez was a “phantom” made up by DeLuna, but this wasn’t true. He was in fact well-known to Corpus Christi law enforcement as a man with a propensity to frightening violence and a love of knives. A career criminal who was almost always out on parole, he continued to assault women after DeLuna was sent to prison.

In November 1983, Hernandez was arrested for attacking his wife with an axe handle. He got 30 days in jail for a misdemeanor, but his parole wasn’t revoked. The judge who issued this light sentence was the father of the lawyer who had inadequately represented Carlos DeLuna.

Carlos Hernandez repeatedly told others that he killed Wanda Lopez and that a tocayo (namesake) was paying for the crime. Hernandez also told people he was responsible for a 1979 murder for which he was indicted but never tried. A former detective admitted that tipsters had told him Carlos Hernandez was the real killer of Wanda Lopez, but that information was apparently never pursued.

The failure to investigate Carlos Hernandez for the killing of Wanda Lopez, or to adequately punish him for other crimes, suggests a cruel indifference to the people of the community he was terrorizing. As the authors put it:

Wanda Lopez’s worthy and unimpeachable life was dishonored not only by the inattention to her plight on the night of February 4, 1983, by everyone in a position to help her, but also by the nonchalance with which everyone in a position to find her killer carried out that responsibility.

The people in this Corpus Christi community paid the price for this nonchalance, and it appears Carlos DeLuna paid the ultimate price.

If you think the death penalty is wrong and the risk of executing the innocent is too high then do something about it by joining our fight to abolish the death penalty in every US state.

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23 thoughts on “Killing The Innocent With Indifference

  1. "Fourteen Days In May"
    BBC Documentary
    Check it out… The same thing happened to Edward Earl Johnson!

  2. Know those ears so well now. They are not completely different from the ears of Hernandez, but DeLuna's are sufficiently distinct. Both men's ears were very narrow, but DeLuna's are (were) broader at the mid point of the ear. Ears are a great identifier and change very little over time. How come the folks judging this case were so ignorant? Did they live somewhere very rural? Did they have no books????

  3. I believe had they caught real murderer…anything less than death penalty would be injustice to the victim! Imagine he killed your family member? Would you want him to roam the streets of your city after a time in prison? so don't go after correcting form of punishment instead blame the process which lead to wrong decision. I am just trying to point at the twisted logic presented in this article. If you want to give them a reversible punishment …let them go through court of appeals or something … instead and then finally convict someone whose really proven guilty..

    • Dear R.S. I don't know how I would feel if someone killed one of my loved ones, but that's the point. When you are struck with grieve you can't think straight, that's why there is a justice system. However the system is run by men and people are known for making mistakes. A death penalty is irrevocable and that's why it's wrong. I sincerely believe that a 'life sentence', should be a life sentence and that people convicted of such cruel crimes should never be eligible for parole. Having said this, I do think that when a person is in prison for a crime they didn't commit, they should be able to clear their name, even if it is after 20 or so years. I live in the Netherlands and over here penalties are way too soft, (e.g. a man convicted of raping and impregnating his 10 year old daughter only got 2 years!) nevertheless, when a Dutch judge sentences someone to a life sentence, it actually IS a life sentence, those people will NEVER get out of prison. Unfortunately only 2 guys serve a life sentence at present. I would like to see a mix of the American justice system and the Dutch justice system, I think we can all learn from each other 🙂

    • Texas now has a "life without parole" option in capital punishment cases. Part of the reasoning for this is because the justice system is prone to mistakes (which, IMHO, was obvious in this case). If you execute someone you can never reverse an error that may have occured. Take a look at how many cases in Texas (not capital punishment cases) have been reversed in recent years due to re-examination of old DNA evidence (you can Google this). There have been numerous errors in this state for all types of reasons. Imagine we did convict the wrong person…then the true culprit would still be on the street. Would that be any better? The goal is to always try to find the person who actually committed the offense and properly punish that person.

      • Stephen: is life without parole really for the duration of a person's life or is it a given number of years? Because I heard that a life sentence is never really a life sentence in America. This can be misinformation on my part. Lijn

        • In the new Texas law (actually about 5 years old now) it really is life without parole. Prior to that juries got the option (in capital murder cases) of either execution or 40 years, which allowed those convicted and senteced to 40 to be eligible for parole in 20 years (with good behavior). So now we here in Texas can actually sentence someone found guilty of capital murder to a true life in prison without parole. This sort of thing varies from state to state, so you have to look at each state's laws as to whether "life without parole" really means that or not.

          While I am certainly against the death penalty, something worthwhile to look at as to what can go wrong with someone truly evil would be to look at Kenneth McDuff. Because the Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in 1972 (Furman v Georgia) McDuff's original sentence of execution was automatically reduced to the 40 year statute. He was paroled in 1989, and returned to do some very gruesome crimes. Do a Google search on him to see more information.

  4. R.S.: The logic in this article is quite sound and not twisted at all. That is, until we have a system that is incapable of putting the wrong person to death for a crime, then we shouldn't have capital punishment at all. You are the one who brought up 'reversible punishment" and "court of appeals," but since you did: If the person convicted is indeed innocent, then of course the punishment should be appealed and reversed. If YOU were wrongly accused, tried and convicted of a crime you did not commit, I'm sure you would not have it any other way. Unfortunately, as the article points out, our justice system all to often convicts the innocent. THAT is the primary reason that people are against the death penalty.

  5. This is not the first time the US has executed an innocent man, and it will not be the last, sadly.

  6. killing somebody is not right these people (murderers) deserve what they get and more the death penalty should be everywhere as life is the most important thing on earth and we have to protect it peace out even if it means taken it away

    • "Life is the most important thing on earth and we have to protect it" by err… putting people to death?

  7. I never understood how USA is calling istself the missionary of democracy all over the globe, while having death-sentence. this in NOT democracy, sorry it just isn't…

  8. What is sad is that this is very probably not the only innocent man that Texas has executed. IMHO any execution of an innocent person completely undermines the justice system, because it cannot be shown that it is still fair.

  9. Perhaps the best comment: “So long as proofs are susceptible of imperfection, so long as appearances may be deceitful, so long as men have no certain criterion for distinguishing truth from falsehood, one of the first securities which they reciprocally owe to each other, is not to admit, without absolute necessity, punishments absolutely irreparable.” –Jeremy Bentham (1799)

  10. The death penalty should be replaced by another penal sanction, the penalty shot – widely feared amongst NHL goalies and therefore sure to make potential offenders think twice.

    • …and when someone is executed, the warden or governor just announces, over a kazoo chorus, "He shoots, he scores!"

  11. The death penalty should be eliminated and replaced by a process of elimination, i.e. sentence those convicts to cleaning up eliminations in toilets and septic tanks everywhere!

  12. To quote the Sigmund Freud character in the "Moriarty" episode of 'Star Trek, The Next Generation', "Keel zem, keel zem all, before dey keel you." I thought that said it all and Am-nasty, noted supporter of all deaths in Afghanistan (NATO!NATO! Yea!) Should now be quiet.

  13. The death penalty is not worth even one innocent life being taken. How about if that innocent person was you or one of your loved ones. Would you still believe in the death penalty… I believe in a life for a life, but only when there 1000% no doubt that the perpetrator is guilty of the crime….