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Carlos DeLuna maintained his innocence from the moment he was arrested in 1983 for the stabbing death of a young Texas woman right up until he was executed six years later. On Monday, a Columbia University professor and a group of law students offered what appears to be definitive proof that DeLuna's mistaken-identity claims were the real deal and that an innocent man was put to death.
The Guardian explains how DeLuna, a 20-year-old eighth-grade dropout at the time of his arrest, told authorities that not only was he not Wanda Lopez's killer, but that he knew the man who was: Carlos Hernandez, a notorious criminal who shared Deluna's first name and looked so much like him that the two were frequently mistaken for twins. The prosecution, however, successfully argued that they searched for this elusive Hernandez without success, and that DeLuna had simply made him up.
But in the spring edition of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review, professor James Liebman recounts how he was able to track down Hernandez with little effort. Four years after DeLuna was put to death, Liebman hired a private investigator to see if he could find any evidence of Hernandez. Within hours, the investigator found a woman who knew Hernandez's date of birth, which proved not only Hernandez’s existence but helped unlock his criminal record that showed he had a record of abusing women.
Among the many damning findings, Liebman, with the help of 12 students, discovered that Hernandez had made numerous confessions to killing Lopez, and that forensic teams had failed to take the most basic measures in investigating the crime scene. Meanwhile, Deluna's death row sentence was largely based on the eyewitness account of one man, who, as the Guardian reports, admitted in an interview 20 years after the crime that he's not that sure whom he saw flee the scene.
"This case changed my whole view," Liebman told the Houston Chronicle. "I had thought the problem cases were ones where you have an out-of-town defendant, a scary person who commits a really bad crime that grabs the whole community. ... Now, I think the worst cases are those that likely happen every day in which no one cares that much about the defendant or the victim."
Over at The Atlantic, Andrew Cohen explains that the report severely undercuts Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's claim that it it highly unlikely that the an innocent man has ever been put to death in the United States by capital punishment in modern times.
Here's Scalia's pull-quote:
"It should be noted at the outset that the dissent does not discuss a single case—not one—in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent's name would be shouted from the rooftops by the abolition lobby."
For more, check out the full Columbia report, "Los Tocayos Carlos: An Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution."