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The Wrong Carlos

The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution

James S. Liebman
Shawn Crowley
Andrew Markquart
Lauren Rosenberg
Lauren Gallo White
Daniel Zharkovsky
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 448
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  • Book Info
    The Wrong Carlos
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53668-4
    Subjects: Law, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XII)
    (pp. XIII-XV)
    (pp. 1-4)

    ON FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 13, 1863, lawmen hanged Chipita Rodriguez from a mesquite tree near Corpus Christi, Texas. Less than a week earlier, a jury had found her guilty of killing a trader for his gold. Both the trader and the sheriff were Anglo, and the sheriff handpicked the jury. Rodriguez was poor and of Mexican descent. She had little in the way of a defense lawyer, who presented even less in the way of a defense.

    The sheriff’s story about what happened never added up because the trader’s gold was found near his body. It was rumored in the Mexican...

  6. Part I. The Death of Wanda Lopez

    • 1 Murder
      (pp. 7-11)

      WANDA JEAN VARGAS LOPEZ DIED AT WORK at a Sigmor Shamrock gas station in Corpus Christi, Texas, on February 4, 1983. She was twenty-four. Wanda’s only brother, Richard Vargas, would hear her utter her last words, but they gave him no solace or peace. They just made him angry.

      Richard was at his parents’ house that Friday night, waiting for Wanda to get off work so they all could go out to celebrate. Wanda had insisted. She had good news to share.

      Wanda worked the 3:00 to 10:00 P.M. shift alone at the small gas station and store in a...

    • 2 Manhunt
      (pp. 12-32)

      KEVAN BAKER WANTED TO FORGET Wanda Lopez’s final moments. He didn’t know Wanda, but her last conscious act before dying was to collapse in his arms, begging for help. Seconds before, he’d wrestled with his own conscience as he watched her through the window wrestling with her attacker.

      For a second or two, the smallish, blond, bespectacled car salesman, who trained as a medic in the navy, had debated whether to go to the woman’s aid or leave. When he decided to go to her, he came face to face with the fleeing attacker, who threatened to pull a gun...

    • 3 Show-up
      (pp. 33-43)

      ON A LATE NOVEMBER EVENING, twenty-one years after Wanda Lopez collapsed in his arms, Kevan Baker was in the living room of his rural southern Michigan home. A middle-aged African American man in an overcoat and tie appeared at the front door, introducing himself as a private investigator from Chicago.

      Baker wasn’t surprised. “This is about that case in Corpus Christi, isn’t it?” he said.

      The former car salesman had been expecting this visit for years, maybe even hoping for it. He’d left Corpus Christi soon after testifying, under oath, that Carlos DeLuna was the man he’d seen taking the...

    • 4 Crime Scene
      (pp. 44-57)

      AFTER MARK SCHAUER LEFT WITH CARLOS DELUNA, a police officer told store manager Robert Stange and his boss Pete Gonzalez to stay put and wait outside the store.

      Stange had worked the morning shift at the store that day starting at 6:00 A.M. and had turned it over to Wanda Lopez at 3:00 P.M. Valentine’s Day was coming up, and Stange had joked with Wanda about whether she’d gotten her valentine yet. She hadn’t, she said, so Stange gave her a Tootsie Roll from the display on the counter. Wanda laughed. Stange went home and soon was asleep.

      A few...

    • 5 Suspect
      (pp. 58-78)

      NOT LONG AFTER CARLOS DELUNA’S ARREST FOR CAPITAL MURDER, his mother, Maria Margarita Martinez, became ill. According to her daughters, she’d always been a healthy woman, but her youngest son’s arrest brought on kidney problems and other complications. Doctors operated on her three times. Two weeks before Carlos’s trial was set to begin, heart problems developed, and she went into intensive care.

      Margarita was supposed to be Carlos’s star witness, but the judge wouldn’t postpone the trial until she was well enough to testify. Margarita clung to life while the trial went on, with her daughters shuttling back and forth...

  7. Part II. The Lives of Carlos Hernandez

    • 6 Probation and Parole
      (pp. 81-101)

      IN THE 1970S AND 1980S, Corpus Christi was a city of many poor Hispanic neighborhoods. In its geographic center stood the La Armada projects, where Carlos DeLuna and his siblings grew up. Two miles south, near the Sigmor Shamrock station, sat the dilapidated neighborhood where the police hunted Wanda Lopez’s killer and arrested DeLuna. Hugging the eastern edge of the city along Corpus Christi Bay, the largest of the Corpus Christi barrios ran several miles south from downtown.

      The one institution in the city that regularly brought young Latinos together from all these neighborhoods was the Casino Club, on South...

    • 7 Acquittal
      (pp. 102-123)

      ON NOVEMBER 29, 1979, Corpus Christi police arrested nineteen-year-old Jesse Garza for the murder of Dahlia Sauceda.

      The police had an eyewitness who had seen Garza beat, rape, and murder the young woman. Pedro Olivarez told them that his friend Garza strangled Dahlia with her blue jeans before using a rusty kitchen knife that police found on the floor of the van to mark a largeXon her back.

      Detectives also had a statement from Roger Fuentes, Garza’s step-brother and roommate. Fuentes said Garza wasn’t home between 1:00 and 3:00 A.M. on the night of the killing. This matched...

    • 8 Confession
      (pp. 124-134)

      PRICILLA HERNANDEZ GREW UP at her grandmother Fidela Hernandez’s house on Carrizo Street. For Pricilla, the street was a sinister backwater cut off from the rest of the world.

      Carrizo Street is only two blocks long, in the heart of the Corpus Christi barrio. It starts at Blucher Street on the north, passes Kinney Street, and dead-ends at a weedy embankment just before Laredo Street on the south. Because the street jogs at Kinney, the dead-end block where Pricilla lived is cut off from even the other block with the same street name.

      Fidela’s house was at the very end...

    • 9 Mistaken Identity
      (pp. 135-146)

      EDDIE GARZA LEFT THE AIR FORCE and joined the Corpus Christi Police Department in 1964. After several years as a patrolman, he became a sergeant with the Criminal Investigations Division in 1970, working theft and burglary, and then major crimes and homicide.

      As Garza told the out-of-town investigators, he had learned in his years on the beat and as a detective that a cop doing investigations “[is] only as good as [his] informants.”

      “You don’t get it out all on your own,” he explained. You have to develop rapport in the community, find people who trust you to help them...

  8. Part III. The Prosecution of Carlos DeLuna

    • 10 Investigation
      (pp. 149-169)

      DETECTIVE EDDIE GARZA was a good soldier.

      When Olivia Escobedo was assigned the Carlos DeLuna case, the respected detective had his doubts. He felt that the case required a more seasoned investigator.

      “If you’re convicting somebody of a capital murder,” he told the out-of-town investigators, you’d better be “sure you have enough evidence that that person was at the crime scene.” He wasn’t convinced that Escobedo was up to the task.

      Escobedo was green and didn’t have the reputation for good work that some of the other detectives had. She’d just been promoted to investigator, and her specialty was rape....

    • 11 Defense
      (pp. 170-196)

      HECTOR DE PEÑA, JR., was the first lawyer assigned to defend Carlos De-Luna against charges that he had killed Wanda Lopez. Long afterward, De Peña recalled the case as a series of disturbing discoveries, each coming a little later than he would have hoped.

      Carlos DeLuna and his family couldn’t afford a lawyer, so Judge Jack Blackmun assigned him one who would be paid by the state. Blackmun was the same judge who three years later would appoint Jon Kelly for, and then free, Carlos Hernandez in the Dahlia Sauceda murder case.

      Why Judge Blackmun picked De Peña for the...

    • 12 No Defense
      (pp. 197-201)

      WHEN CARLOS DELUNA COUGHED UP the name Carlos Hernandez on July 15, the person assigned by the prosecution team to look for the man was not Senior Prosecutor Kenneth Botary, Chief Detective Olivia Escobedo, or Identification Technician Joel Infante. All three of them had more than a passing familiarity withtheCarlos Hernandez from the Dahlia Sauceda case, Eddie Garza’s informants in the weeks after the Wanda Lopez killing, and Hernandez’s arrest in April 1983 at the 7-Eleven.

      Nor did Assistant District Attorny Steven Schiwetz try himself to locate and question “Carlos Hernandez,” even though the D.A.’s file in the...

    • 13 Trial
      (pp. 202-231)

      CARLOS DELUNA’S TRIAL BEGAN ON FRIDAY, July 15, 1983, just over five months after the slaying of Wanda Jean Lopez. Karen Boudrie, a novice beat reporter in her early twenties, covered the case for KZTV, the CBS affiliate in Corpus Christi. DeLuna’s was the first trial of any kind that Boudrie had covered as a journalist. A bit overwhelmed—“like a deer in the headlights”—Boudrie sat in the courtroom, listening intently to the evidence against DeLuna and reporting her observations to the Corpus Christi community through frequent segments onNewswatch 10(figure 13.1).

      The young reporter was fascinated by...

    • 14 Sentence
      (pp. 232-240)

      THE SECOND STAGE OF CARLOS DELUNA’S capital murder trial decided whether his sentence would be life in prison or death. It began the next morning, Thursday, July 21, 1983, in front of the same jury.

      The fact that a unanimous jury had found the defendant guilty of cold-blooded murder just the day before was a bad sign for anyone facing the death penalty, but it was especially bad for DeLuna.

      In most capital trials, the defendant offers an excuse—a mental defect or disease, for example—that may be strong enough to avoid a conviction for capital murder by justifying...

  9. Part IV. The Passion of Carlos DeLuna

    • 15 Appeals
      (pp. 243-280)

      THE NEXT DAY, FRIDAY, July 22, 1983, Assistant District Attorney Kenneth Botary acted as though he’d seen a ghost.

      That day, Botary asked a judge for permission to remove all the physical evidence from the court file and take it to the district attorney’s office: the lock-blade buck knife used to stab Wanda Lopez, the Winston pack the killer had left on the counter, the beer cans that George Aguirre saw him drinking from, the partly smoked cigarette fragment that probably broke off during the struggle. The court granted the request (figure 15.1).

      Botary’s written motion listed all the items...

    • 16 Execution
      (pp. 281-302)

      ABOUT THE TIME CARLOS DELUNA arrived on death row, Rosie Esquivel was working in a warehouse in Garland, Texas, with Mary Conejo, the wife of Carlos’s half-brother Danny. Mary asked Rosie if she’d be willing to write to Carlos sometimes to help keep his spirits up. Although Rosie had never met Carlos, she was about his age and, in her succinct and straightforward way, said she didn’t have a problem with that. Over the next six years, she wrote to Carlos and received “hundreds” of letters back from him. She saved them in a big box for a long time...

  10. Part V. The Scars of Dina Ybañez

    • 17 Recidivism
      (pp. 305-314)

      ANYONE WHO SPENT TIME AROUND Carlos Hernandez after 1978, when he made parole on his armed robbery convictions, almost surely saw him being arrested for one thing or another. It happened dozens of times. But Hernandez’s arrests were an especially important part of Dina Ybañez’s four-year friendship with him. Dina met himbecausehe was being arrested—in mid-April 1985, his thirteenth trip to jail since 1978. Four years later, in mid-April 1989, Hernandez used a lock-blade buck knife to rip a 4-inch incision in Ybañez’s abdomen, prompting his twentieth arrest.

      April was a bad month to be around Hernandez,...

    • Epilogue
      (pp. 315-342)

      “I DIDN’T DO IT, BUT I KNOW WHO DID.” From the moment Mark Schauer and other officers pulled Carlos DeLuna out from under the truck on Franklin Street—wet, agitated, and smelling of beer—to the moment of his execution, DeLuna’s claim remained the same. He didn’t do it, but he knew who did. “I’ll help you,” he told Officer Schauer, “if you help me.”

      Contrary to the prosecution’s assertion at trial, Carlos DeLuna’s claim was no eleventh-hour creation. Although it took him five months to overcome his well-founded fears and utter the name Carlos Hernandez, De-Luna never wavered about...

  11. APPENDIX. People
    (pp. 343-356)
    (pp. 357-408)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 409-430)