WASHINGTON - June 26 - For the fourth time in 19 months, newly discovered
evidence has emerged that an innocent person in all probability
was executed, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty said
The Chicago Tribune reported in its Sunday editions that evidence
shows Carlos De Luna, executed Dec. 7, 1989 for the murder of Wanda
Lopez in Corpus Christi, Texas was not in fact the killer. The
newspaper pointed to another man, Carlos Hernandez, who admitted
repeatedly that he alone killed Lopez. A prosecutor denied the very
existence of Hernandez, despite the fact that he knew about Hernandez
from a previous murder that he had prosecuted. Furthermore, Hernandez
was well known because of his lengthy criminal history, which included
knife assaults similar to the one that killed Lopez.
The series marks the fourth time since December 2004 that a major
U.S. newspaper has called into question whether an innocent person
was executed. Three of the questionable executions occurred in
Texas while one occured in Missouri:
****In December 2004, a Chicago Tribune series on junk science
concluded that Cameron Todd Willingham, executed earlier that year,
had been convicted on the basis of discredited arson analysis.
A recent report by the Innocence Project, conducted by a team
of leading arson experts, supports the Tribune story.
****In May 2005, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Larry
Griffin, executed June 21, 1995 for the murder of Quinten Moss,
may well have been innocent. A man wounded in the shooting
said Griffin was not the gunman. A police officer on the scene
revised his account, first given at trial. And St. Louis Circuit
Attorney Jennifer Joyce has re-opened an investigation of the
****In November 2005, the Houston Chronicle reported on the case of
Ruben Cantu, executed in 1993. The Chronicle reported that the person
who identified Cantu said that he only did so because he believed the
police wanted him to select Cantu. Sam Millsap, the Bexar County
District Attorney when Cantu was prosecuted, has said that he has no
reason to doubt the recantation, and regrets that a death sentence
was sought in the case. The current Bexar County district attorney
is investigating the case.
"The execution of one innocent person is too many and now we are dealing
with four very disturbing reports in the past 19 months," said Diann Rust-Tierney,
executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
"We see common themes in these wrongful executions, which tell us exactly
the wrongs we need to right. Prosecutorial and police misconduct, ineffective
assistance of counsel and flawed testimony characterized each of these
cases, and faulty eyewitness identification and lack of credible evidence
were factors in at least three of the four."
Rust-Tierney added that the Chicago Tribune's series "confirms our worst
fear and our worst nightmare. We have a death penalty system that produced
results that we simply cannot trust. We therefore call for an immediate halt
to all executions."