Antonin Scalia once said that no one had ever been executed in the US for a crime they didn’t commit. Well, the Columbia Human Rights Law Review is devoting its entire spring issue to the case of Carlos DeLuna, who was executed by the state of Texas in 1989 for the murder of Wanda Lopez. Their investigation reveals that another Carlos, Carlos Hernandez, actually committed the murder.
Many other glaring discrepancies also stand out in the DeLuna case. He was put on death row largely on the eyewitness testimony of one man, Kevan Baker, who had seen the fight inside the Shamrock and watched the attacker flee the scene.
Yet when Baker was interviewed 20 years later, he said that he hadn’t been that sure about the identification as he had trouble telling one Hispanic person apart from another.
Then there was the crime-scene investigation. Detectives failed to carry out or bungled basic forensic procedures that might have revealed information about the killer. No blood samples were collected and tested for the culprit’s blood type.
Fingerprinting was so badly handled that no useable fingerprints were taken. None of the items found on the floor of the Shamrock - a cigarette stub, chewing gum, a button, comb and beer cans - were forensically examined for saliva or blood.
There was no scraping of the victim’s fingernails for traces of the attacker’s skin. When Liebman and his students studied digitally enhanced copies of crime scene photographs, they were amazed to find the footprint from a man’s shoe imprinted in a pool of Lopez’s blood on the floor - yet no effort was made to measure it.
“There it was,” says Liebman. “The murderer had left his calling card at the scene, but it was never used.”
Even the murder weapon, the knife, was not properly examined, though it was covered in blood and flesh.
Other photographs show Lopez’s blood splattered up to three feet high on the walls of the Shamrock counter. Yet when DeLuna’s clothes and shoes were tested for traces of blood, not a single microscopic drop was found. The prosecution said it must have been washed away by the rain.
Awful. See also Cameron Todd Willingham.