Columbia Human Rights Law Review devotes entire issue to wrongfully executed Carlos DeLuna

The entire current issue of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review is given over to the tragic wrongful execution of Carlos DeLuna, an almost certainly innocent man who was murdered by the state of Texas on 8 December 1989. DeLuna's case is one where "everything that could go wrong did go wrong" in the words of Columbia law Professor James Liebman, who, with 12 students, wrote the 436-page issue. None of the evidence that would have exonerated DeLuna was considered by police or the prosecution, and the likely culprit, a man who was also named Carlos, and who was frequently mistaken for DeLuna, went free. It's a nightmarish account of a man whom the authorities "knew" to be guilty, who was killed despite his innocence. It's a chilling reminder where laws like the UK's stop-and-search rules (which allow police to stop and search without suspicion, if they "just know" there's something wrong) and the no-fly list (which allows for the arbitrary removal of the right to travel without any public airing of evidence or charge, when authorities "just know" you're not safe to fly) will inevitably end up.

From a Guardian story by Ed Pilkington:

From the moment of his arrest until the day of his death by lethal injection six years later, DeLuna consistently protested he was innocent. He went further – he said that though he hadn't committed the murder, he knew who had. He even named the culprit: a notoriously violent criminal called Carlos Hernandez.

The two Carloses were not just namesakes – or tocayos in Spanish, as referenced in the title of the Columbia book. They were the same height and weight, and looked so alike that they were sometimes mistaken for twins. When Carlos Hernandez's lawyer saw pictures of the two men, he confused one for the other, as did DeLuna's sister Rose.

At his 1983 trial, Carlos DeLuna told the jury that on the day of the murder he'd run into Hernandez, who he'd known for the previous five years. The two men, who both lived in the southern Texas town of Corpus Christi, stopped off at a bar. Hernandez went over to a gas station, the Shamrock, to buy something, and when he didn't return DeLuna went over to see what was going on.

DeLuna told the jury that he saw Hernandez inside the Shamrock wrestling with a woman behind the counter. DeLuna said he was afraid and started to run. He had his own police record for sexual assault – though he had never been known to possess or use a weapon – and he feared getting into trouble again.

The wrong Carlos: how Texas sent an innocent man to his death


  1. Ever notice how the numbskulls who most adamantly claim to distrust the government are often the same ones who support the policies (especially the death penalty) which allow these kinds of horrible things to happen? Seriously, Texas. What the fuck.

    1. They do not distrust the government fully, they just distrust the parts that say they cant do X because of some long term impact on the larger community. Their view of a perfect government is the one that upholds property claims and contracts, and only that.

    1. Now THAT would be interesting, a sort of reverse-jeopardy, where if you push aggresively for the death penalty AND with extremely faulty evidence, it can be categorized as murder and subject to the death penalty itself.  The proverbial double-edged sword, so to speak.

      That would kick their incompetent batshit bloodlust down a couple of notches.  But that’s not gonna happen and the out of control, good ole boy shitkickers will remain the main voting block and in power.
      Twice I’ve passed through a corner of Texas (El Paso), twice paid for hotel and paid for food.  That was a while back.  Never again.

      1. I think the Romans had a law like that- they had no state prosecutors, but accusing someone of a crime that they ended up being acquitted of meant that you could be convicted of calumnia. My sources differ on whether the penalty for calumnia was a fine, branding and loss of the right to bring prosecutions, or the same punishment that the accused would have received had they been found guilty.

  2. Alas, far too many of my fellow American’s will look at this, those that bother to even notice, and say “Well, he’s one of them thar’ brown skin folks so he must’ve been guilty of something….

    1. If ya ain’t guilty, then ya ain’t got nothin’ to hide.

      Praise the Lord and pass ’em guns, now let’s go lynch a queer and burn a Qur’an.

  3. If you’re poor, and accused of a crime, count on being convicted.  Public defenders are often inexperienced, inept, or simply don’t care.  Once you’re arrested, you’re part of a machine that assumes guilt.  People don’t want details, they want your paperwork off their desk, and onto someone else’s.  Mention the word “felon” to someone, and watch their eyes glaze over.  We’re all conditioned to react negatively to the word.  Yet, it doesn’t really take much to become one anymore.  In most states, judges have the discretion to turn pretty much any misdemeanor into a felony.  There is such a thing as felony jaywalking.

    You may not believe it, but a significant percentage of people you know are felons.  That percentage has been rising steadily for decades.  Think about where it will end up.

    Edit: You’re right. My characterization of most public defenders was off. I was projecting my one single experience onto a whole group of people, and that was wrong. You have my sincerest apologies.

    1. While I agree with much (actually most) of what you’ve said, your characterization of public defenders is off. I have a lot of lawyers in my extended family and the main reason PD’s are less likely to win is lack of resources. Private lawyers have teams of people to pour over documents, make calls demanding said documents and do all the other grunt work. PD’s have just a few people in their whole office. There is also a big difference in who they can hire as experts. So while I agree that being poor and defended by a PD puts you at a disadvantage, its not for lack of skill or effort.

      1. Given the disparity in acquittals, especially seen in felony cases, I’d argue that intent doesn’t really matter.

        If you’re poor and use a PD, you’re effectively going to prison. And when you go, you’ll spend additional time.

        Of course, this isn’t an accident. America’s failed legal system didn’t get to where it is today just by chance.

    2. Public defenders are often inexperienced, inept, or simply don’t care.

      Or just overworked and underfunded.

  4. Here in Texas it doesn’t matter that an innocent person was put to death for a crime, as long as SOMEONE pays for a crime. 

    Unless you wear a suit, then no crime has occurred. 

    1. Pretty much, but we also have the most hardcore anti-death penalty groups you’ll find anywhere.

      Those scenes set in Huntsville in The Life of David Gale were not overdone. 

  5. Cory, I’m not sure I understand where you were going with the last line of your write up. (“It’s a chilling reminder where laws like the UK’s stop-and-search rules (which allow police to stop and search without suspicion, if they “just know” there’s something wrong) and the no-fly list (which allows for the arbitrary removal of the right to travel without any public airing of evidence or charge, when authorities “just know” you’re not safe to fly) will inevitably end up.”) 

    If you look at something like the no-fly list as a government abuse that could lead to more, I can buy that, but this man was executed a full decade before the post 9/11 furor brought us the no-fly list.  I don’t mean to be flip, but we can’t blame everything on the TSA.  We were in a pretty bad place (i.e., executing innocent men) long before the most recent abuses of power started.  The no-fly list and UK stop and search rules can’t lead us to a place if we’re already there.

    1.  His point is that accusations of crime, or any sort of wrongdoing supported by hunches or feelings, leave you in an extremely vulnerable position, if your accuser doesn’t need, want or pay attention to actual evidence. Especially if one thinks about the seriousness of the crime DeLuna was accused of, what sort of recourse can one expect if you finish on a no-fly list if he didn’t get any for a death penalty case.

      Yeah, the repercussions are a little less serious in respects to the TSA, although they could effectively ruin your life (can’t fly to see family, or for work, or whatever) but you are at least still alive.

  6. Stuff like this happens in the US and still there are Usians that regularly deride other nations  legal system as inferior or flawed just ’cause …. you know … the US is the best . MURRICA! 

    E.g.: BB article “Couple arrested after fighting over possession of drug-filled teddy bear”

  7. No matter how far wrong you’ve gone
    You can always turn around

    Met a woman in a bar
    Told her I was hard to get to know
    And near impossible to forget
    She said I had an ego on me
    The size of Texas

    Well I’m new here and I forget
    Does that mean big or small?

  8. As much as I cannot diagree with execution per se (a good example of a good choice is Dahmer), it seems to me that the methods used to determine who gets executed are so deeply flawed that the concept should be scrapped entirely. Simply put for every hopelessly dangerous person killed there seems to be at least five who can be rehabilitated and at least one who was innocent all along. That makes it intolerable.

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