According to Columbia University law professor James Liebman, a man who was wrongly convicted of murder was executed in Texas in 1989. Texas has executed the most people out of any state, executing 482 of the 1,295 people who have been put to death nationwide since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.
On February 4, 1983, Wanda Lopez was working as a late-shift gas station attendant at the Sigmor Shamrock gas station in Corpus Christi, Texas. After what was most likely a botched robbery, Lopez ended up dead from knife wounds.
Carlos DeLuna, age 20 at the time, was found a few blocks away, hiding under a pick-up truck, with $149 in cash in his wallet. It was then that the evidence started amassing against him. One eyewitness said he saw him with a knife, other witnesses say they saw him running away from the scene. DeLuna maintained that he was at a skating rink with a friend, Carlos Hernandez, and two sisters…however, one of the sisters he claimed to be skating with denied ever even being with him that night. On top of all of that, DeLuna already had a criminal record for burglary, public drunkenness, attempted rape, and auto theft.
But for all the evidence against him, there was even more evidence to show that he was not Wanda Lopez’s killer. DeLuna maintained his innocence and insisted that Carlos Hernandez, his friend from the skating rink, killed Lopez. The police tried to find Hernandez but couldn’t, calling him a “figment of DeLuna’s imagination.” There were many other reasons why DeLuna was not the killer that the prosecution either overlooked or chose to ignore:
• The crime scene was not properly examined, ignoring footprints, fingerprints, and blood
• DeLuna’s typical attire did not match that of the description of the killer’s
• DeLuna was not known to carry a knife, while Hernandez was
• The killer should have had blood on his pants, but DeLuna did not
• There were conflicting witness statements
• DeLuna and Hernandez looked alike, indistinguishable to some
Because of the lack of evidence against him, and the trove of evidence for him, James Liebman believes that DeLuna was wrongly put to death. Unfortunately, DeLuna is not the only one who has been falsely executed. Cameron Todd Williams, also of Texas, was executed for burning down his house and killing his three daughters, a crime he likely did not commit. DeLuna and Williams are not the only Texans wrongfully convicted – there have been 41 DNA exonerations in Texas in the last 9 years alone, and it is unknown how many innocent people were executed before DNA testing. This startling statistic illustrates the uncertainty of some aspects of the legal system, which contrasts sharply with the permanence of the death penalty.