With a 400-page report published in the Human Rights Law Review, Columbia University law professor James Liebman claims that he and a team of students have proven that the state of Texas executed the wrong man back in 1989. The report presents evidence suggesting another man with similar features and the same first name was actually the killer.
Carlos De Luna (lead) was executed for allegedly stabbing 24-year-old single mother Wanda Lopez (fourth image) to death as she worked the night shift at the Sigmor Shamrock gas station in Corpus Christi back in 1983. The 20-year-old De Luna was found hiding under a pickup truck mere blocks from the scene with a wad of cash amounting to $149 in his pocket. When police brought him back to the crime scene—though witnesses gave conflicting descriptions of the killer—De Luna was arrested.
The most alarming information is that one witness described the suspect as a man with a mustache who was wearing a flannel shirt, while De Luna was clean-shaven and wearing a white shirt and black pants. They don’t look that much alike. All evidence suggests that the man identified was Carlos Hernandez (third image), an older acquaintance of De Luna’s who was at a local strip club with him that night. It’s also strange that witnesses say the assailant was seen heading north, while De Luna was found east of the crime.
Also puzzling was the fact that police never found a knife on De Luna, while Hernandez was arrested a few days later with a knife on him. Furthermore, photos of a bloody footprint and splattered blood indicate that the killer would have had blood on his shoes and clothing. De Luna’s clothes were clean.
Still, De Luna didn’t exactly make things easy on himself. Months following his arrest, he refused to give up Hernandez’s name out of fear. He claimed that he saw Hernandez fighting with Lopez at the Shamrock, and only fled because he heard police sirens and was drinking while on parole. The prosecution ignored his story and alibi, possibly seeing what they assumed to be a quick open and shut case.
The trial lasted just six days, with the jury arriving swiftly at a guilty verdict. Hernandez would later be convicted of murdering another woman with that very same knife, but died of cirrhosis in prison in 1999. The Chicago Tribune published a three-part series back in 2006 with more evidence establishing that Hernandez killed Lopez, and multiple people told the paper that Hernandez confessed to the murder before dying.
The Huffington Post noted that since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976, there have been 1,295 executions in America. 482 have taken place in Texas—more than any other state. The sloppy investigation associated with this case is precisely why staunch opposition to the death penalty remains. It’s not something you can correct.