An extensive study undertaken by the Columbia Law School has published some startling revelations about the execution of one particular Texas resident, a man named Carlos Deluna who was executed in 1989 for a murder that it is highly unlikely he committed.
The study is being published by the Columbia Human Rights Law Review in its spring edition. The journal has cleared all other articles to make way for this revelatory study and has even doubled in size to include all of the content.
Entitled ‘Los Tocayos Carlos: An Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution’, the study was carried out by Professor James Liebman and 12 of his students and was researched for six years, during which Liebman and his pupils conducted numerous interviews with police and residents of the area, examined evidence from the case and unearthed some startling facts that seem to prove that the state of Texas did in fact execute the wrong man.
Carlos Deluna was just 20 years old when he was arrested on 4th February 1983 from the vicious murder of a young woman called Wanda Lopez at a gas station named The Shamrock in the South Texan town of Corpus Christi. Lopez had been stabbed through her left breast with an 8 inch lock-blade buck knife, severing an artery which caused her to bleed to death.
Deluna claimed mistaken identity from the day of his arrest until the day of his execution in 1989. He was adamant that the murder had in fact been committed by another man that he knew, a tocayos (which means namesake in Spanish) Carlos Hernandez. Deluna claimed that Hernandez had a violent criminal past and that he had been with him prior to the attack. As well as sharing the same first name, Hernandez and Deluna also looked uncannily alike – they were the same height, same weight and similar builds. In fact, the two men looked so similar to one another that people often believed them to be twins and even Deluna’s sister and Hernandez’s lawyer had trouble differentiating between the two men.
At the trial Deluna explained to the jury that he had gone for a drink with Hernandez – who he claimed to know for approximately 5 years prior to the fateful day that Lopez was murdered. Deluna said that Hernandez went over to the Shamrock to purchase something but he took longer than expected so Deluna went over to see what the delay was.
Then Deluna claimed to have seen Hernandez inside the station grappling with a woman, Deluna who had already had a criminal record for sexual assault (but had not been known to possess or use a weapon) panicked and fled the scene. He claimed to have been terrified of getting in trouble again; however he was arrested hiding under a truck just 40 minutes after Lopez was murdered.
Prosecutors at the trial however ridiculed Deluna’s defense, they claimed that police had in fact looked for Carlos Hernandez after Deluna told them he was at the scene of crime but that they could not locate him and did not believe that he existed. They described him as a figment of Deluna’s imagination, a ‘phantom’ that just did not exist.
Professor Liebman took up Deluna’s case four years after he was executed by lethal injection, as part of a project intended to prove the flaws in the death penalty. Liebman had a private investigator start the hunt for this alleged figment of Deluna’s imagination and in just one day the investigator found undeniable evidence of his existence. The investigator managed to trace a woman who was related to both men, she gave them Hernandez’s birthday which enabled them to uncover the shocking history of his violent criminal past. He had been arrested a shocking 39 times, 13 of those were for carrying a knife, however, Hernandez never went to prison. Liebman believes that the only possible justification for this is if he actually acted as a police informant, he said it would be difficult to comprehend it otherwise.
This is where the case against Deluna starts to fall apart completely…Hernandez had a long history of violent behavior towards women and had even been arrested twice over the murder of another woman. One of these arrests was made a few years before the trial and the other whilst Deluna was on death row, yet the connection between the two men was never made. He repeated bragged about being a murderer and told numerous people that he had killed Lopez – joking that his tocayo had instead been punished for his crime.
In October 1989 – just a few months before Deluna was executed – Hernandez did end up going to prison, this time it was for the attempting to murder a woman named Dina Ybanez – his weapon of choice of course was a knife…
The details I have highlighted in this article are just a few of the discoveries made by Liebman and his students in the case that almost unquestionably prove that Carlos Deluna was executed for a crime he did not commit. One of the hardest things I find to believe about it all is that the police claimed to have no knowledge of the other Carlos. It is almost impossible to imagine that they could not find any record of this notorious criminal living in the same small town. Surely a more thorough investigation could have been carried out, if they’d looked hard enough, they should have been able to find him and then, maybe the death of an innocent man could have been prevented.
Liebman hopes that the evidence he has presented in the study will make many other states think about repealing the death penalty. All of the evidence Liebman collected has been placed on the internet and is open to access from the public.
In the Guardian article about Liebman’s revelatory study, he said: “We’ve provided as complete a set of information as we can about a pretty average case, to let the public make its own judgment. I believe they will make the judgment that in this kind of case there’s just too much risk.”