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Questions About Another Texas Execution: Was Wrong Man Condemned?

Already in the spotlight over whether it executed one innocent man — Cameron Todd Willingham — in 2004, the state of Texas now faces questions about whether another man may have been wrongly condemned to death.

Columbia Law School's Columbia Human Rights Law Review has posted online a 400-page, multi-media investigation that concludes it was mistake to have put Carlos DeLuna to death in 1989 for the murder of Corpus Christi convenience store clerk Wanda Lopez.

Basically, the Review's investigation concludes that the state put too much faith on unreliable testimony from one witness and that DeLuna wasn't provided with adequate legal representation. It was another man named Carlos, most likely, who committed the murder, according to the Review.

The San Antonio Express-News reports today that the lead prosecutor in the case against DeLuna "has not read the journal article, but disputed the authors' conclusions."

"These guys are crusaders,' Steve Schiwetz told the newspaper. "What can I say?"

But Columbia Law professor James Liebman told the Express-News that the examination of the case against DeLuna began with a 2003 student project looking at Texas death penalty cases that relied on a single eyewitness account to secure a conviction.

"This case changed my whole view," Liebman said. "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."

Willingham, as The New Yorker reported in a lengthy 2009 story, was put to death even though there was substantial evidence to indicate he did not set a fire that killed his three young daughters, as prosecutors alleged.

"In Texas," as The Statesman has reported, "12 convicts have been exonerated since 1976 among 139 prisoners nationwide, and controversy has swirled several times over whether Texas may have executed innocent men — the latest involving the case of ... Willingham."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.

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