Innocent Execution? Group and Newspaper say Yes

A Corpus Christi family and Texas death penalty opponents say there's now overwhelming evidence that a man executed in 1989 was innocent. As Houston Public Radi's Jack Williams reports, a recent series of articles by a Chicago newspaper have raised new questions about the execution of Carlos De Luna

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"He didn't have this in him to kill someone."

Rose Rhoton says her brother Carlos was admittedly a trouble-maker, arrested for minor crimes before he was picked-up for the murder of a Corpus Christi woman in early 1983. Quickly convicted, he was sentenced to death and executed in Huntsville 17 years ago, all the while proclaiming his innocence. A series by the Chicago Tribune now suggests another man, Carlos Hernandez, may have actually been the killer. He died while in prison for another crime seven years ago, but repeatedly bragged to family members and friends that he had actually killed the woman."

"That's the hardest thing that I have ever been through in my life, watching my brother be killed for something that he did not do. My brother was innocent."

The Tribune's series points out that there was no forensic evidence against De Luna, no blood on his clothing and shaky eyewitness testimony. It also reports that during the trial, prosecutors claimed that Carlos Hernandez didn't exist, but knew that he did.

"I was with Carlos his last day."

The Reverend Carroll Pickett was the chaplain in the Texas Death Chamber the day De Luna was put to death. During his years in Huntsville, he witnessed 95 executions, but says De Luna's death still haunts him.

"He was a nice, young man. I felt when I first met him that he was not the typical person to be put to death."

The Texas Innocence Network, armed with the new information in the De Luna case, is now asking state lawmakers to give Texas Courts of Inquiry the power to investigate claims that an innocent person has been executed. Nicole Casarez is a professor at the University of St. Thomas and helps students investigate claims of innocence.

"This would involve simply a small change to the Texas law as it currently stands. Sadly Mr. De Luna's case is not the only one where there are questions that an innocent person may have been executed."

But Dudley Sharp with the Houston-based pro-death penalty organization Justice Matters says there are already mechanisms in place in Texas law for families who believe their loved-ones have been wrongly executed. He says the death penalty system is remarkably accurate.

"No one doubts that all systems that are manned by human-beings are going to have errors, and that's why in the death penalty system we have appeals and we have commutation and clemency given by the executive branch of government, and those protections really are extraordinary and that's why we don't have any solid cases of actually innocents executed in the modern era."

You can find out more about the De Luna case through a link on our website, KUHF.org.

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