The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution


In 1989, Texas executed Carlos DeLuna, a poor Hispanic man with childlike intelligence, for the murder of Wanda Lopez, a convenience store clerk. His execution passed unnoticed for years until a team of Columbia Law School faculty and students almost accidentally chose to investigate his case and found that DeLuna almost certainly was innocent. They discovered that no one had cared enough about either the defendant or the victim to make sure the real perpetrator was found. Everything that could go wrong in a ...

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The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution

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In 1989, Texas executed Carlos DeLuna, a poor Hispanic man with childlike intelligence, for the murder of Wanda Lopez, a convenience store clerk. His execution passed unnoticed for years until a team of Columbia Law School faculty and students almost accidentally chose to investigate his case and found that DeLuna almost certainly was innocent. They discovered that no one had cared enough about either the defendant or the victim to make sure the real perpetrator was found. Everything that could go wrong in a criminal case did. This book documents DeLuna's conviction, which was based on a single, nighttime, cross-ethnic eyewitness identification with no corroborating forensic evidence. At his trial, DeLuna's defense, that another man named Carlos had committed the crime, was not taken seriously. The lead prosecutor told the jury that the other Carlos, Carlos Hernandez, was a "phantom" of DeLuna's imagination. In upholding the death penalty on appeal, both the state and federal courts concluded the same thing: Carlos Hernandez did not exist.

The evidence the Columbia team uncovered reveals that Hernandez not only existed but was well known to the police and prosecutors. He had a long history of violent crimes similar to the one for which DeLuna was executed. Families of both Carloses mistook photos of each for the other, and Hernandez's violence continued after DeLuna was put to death. This book and its website ( reproduce law-enforcement, crime lab, lawyer, court, social service, media, and witness records, as well as court transcripts, photographs, radio traffic, and audio and videotaped interviews, documenting one of the most comprehensive investigations into a criminal case in U.S. history.

The result is eye-opening yet may not be unusual. Faulty eyewitness testimony, shoddy legal representation, and prosecutorial misfeasance continue to put innocent people at risk of execution. The principal investigators conclude with novel suggestions for improving accuracy among the police, prosecutors, forensic scientists, and judges.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

Jordan Steiker

This book is distinctive in its sheer comprehensiveness of investigation and presentation. It will be an instant classic in criminology.

Austin Sarat

Given the quality of the work and the importance of the subject, this book will become a classic in the field. It is as good a book about the death penalty as I have ever read.

Meghan Ryan

Liebman and his coauthors tell an important story of alleged wrongful execution. The story of Carlos DeLuna highlights several important yet often overlooked problems plaguing our criminal justice system, ranging from the pitfalls of eyewitness identification to the disadvantages of the restrictions of habeas corpus.

Peter J. Neufeld and Barry Scheck

A masterful deconstruction of the Lopez murder and police investigation followed by the prosecution and execution of the wrong man. Given the number of men already exonerated from death row and the unacceptable incidence of innocent men convicted of capital crimes, there can be no doubt that innocent men have been executed by the state. Liebman's command of the facts and intellectual precision, ultimately infused with a moral urgency, makes a compelling claim that Carlos DeLuna is one of those innocent men.

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2014-05-18
A Columbia Law School professor and some of his students gather and present evidence establishing the innocence of Carlos DeLuna, executed for murder in Texas in 1989.Legal scholar Liebman (co-author: Federal Habeas Corpus Practice and Procedure, 2001) begins (and ends) with Justice Antonin Scalia, who famously said in 2006 that there has not been a single case of wrongful execution. Perhaps this one will change his message? The author acquired the old transcripts, interviewed many of those involved, read the newspaper clippings and watched the TV news coverage—in general, he and his team behaved as the authorities in Corpus Christi should have but manifestly didn't. In 1983, DeLuna was accused of stabbing Wanda Lopez, a gas station clerk, and was apprehended less than an hour later. Intellectually damaged, DeLuna denied the crime from the beginning to the very moment of his execution. Liebman and the others discovered that there was another Carlos—Carlos Hernandez—who was patently guilty. He and DeLuna looked a lot alike, but the violent Hernandez, a career criminal who later died in prison, carried (and often used) a knife and later told more than one person that he had actually committed the murder. Liebman's team went over the physical evidence thoroughly (there was none connecting DeLuna to the case) and tacitly and explicitly accuse the Corpus Christi authorities of a rush to judgment. The author offers numerous photographs, charts and other documents (some are from police reports and trial evidence), as well as a website that presents much more of it. The chapter about DeLuna's execution is wrenching. Liebman concludes with thoughts about how something like this could happen—and what we need to do to prevent it from happening again.Death penalty opponents now have a definitive example to cite; death penalty proponents have an agonizing case to consider.
Library Journal
★ 06/15/2014
Liebman (Columbia Law Sch.) and his former students present the chilling results of the Columbia DeLuna Project, which sought to prove that Texas executed an innocent man in 1989. Unlike Leslie Lytle's Execution's Doorstep, which studied death-row inmates who were freed after being exonerated, this is a postmortem investigation of a collection of travesties. According to the authors, the 1983 murder of Wanda Lopez, a convenience store clerk in Corpus Christi, TX, was committed by Carlos Hernandez, whom Carlos DeLuna, the executed man, knew. Using court records, extensive interviews with witnesses, and photographic evidence, the authors dissect DeLuna's conviction, which was based on a single eyewitness and on DeLuna's capture near the crime scene. The book attempts to refute Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia's 2006 claim that there has never been proof of a wrongful U.S. execution. The exhaustively documented text presents the case in chronological order, from the crime to the execution, and at a minimum creates abundant reasonable doubt for the accused. The authors do not argue for the abolition of the death penalty but show that in one case the justice system completely failed. One question left unanswered is whether, 25 years later, death penalty prosecutions are any more thorough. VERDICT A masterpiece of its type and a disturbing true crime account, highly recommended for all nonfiction collections.—Harry Charles, St. Louis
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231167239
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 7/22/2014
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 363,527
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

James S. Liebman is Simon F. Rifkind Professor of Law at Columbia Law School and a nationally recognized expert on the death penalty. He is the coauthor of Federal Habeas Corpus Practice and Procedure and A Modern Approach to Evidence: Text, Problems, Transcripts, and Cases.

The Columbia DeLuna Project is a multiyear examination of the execution of Carlos DeLuna, conducted by James S. Liebman and five now-graduated Columbia Law students: Shawn Crowley, Andrew Markquart, Lauren Rosenberg, Lauren Gallo White, and Daniel Zharkovsky.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

PrefaceAcknowledgmentsProloguePart I. The Death of Wanda Lopez1. Murder2. Manhunt3. Show-up4. Crime Scene5. SuspectPart II. The Lives of Carlos Hernandez6. Probation and Parole7. Acquittal8. Confession9. Mistaken IdentityPart III. The Prosecution of Carlos DeLuna10. Investigation11. Defense12. No Defense13. Trial14. SentencePart IV. The Passion of Carlos DeLuna15. Appeals16. ExecutionPart V. The Scars of Dina Ybañez17. RecidivismEpilogueAppendix. PeopleBibliographyIndex

Columbia University Press

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