Wrong man executed

Stories of exonerations of wrongfully convicted persons, some who have spent decades in prison for crimes they did not commit, some who were on death row, are a dime a dozen now.  With the work of the Innocence Project, and the availability of post-conviction DNA testing in some states (not South Carolina – it seems that we really don’t care about wrongful convictions here), it has become clear how often we put the wrong person behind bars, as well as why – faulty eyewitness identifications, jailhouse snitch testimony, and bad science.

But the tales of those who are exonerated after the government has killed them are not as common – like Carlos DeLuna who was executed by the State of Texas in 1989 for a murder, although he told authorities he knew who the killer was – a man who killed again after DeLuna was charged and prosecuted and who repeatedly admitted that he was the killer.

He was the spitting image of the killer, had the same first name and was near the scene of the crime at the fateful hour: Carlos DeLuna paid the ultimate price and was executed in place of someone else in Texas in 1989, a report out Tuesday found.

Even “all the relatives of both Carloses mistook them,” and DeLuna was sentenced to death and executed based only on eyewitness accounts despite a range of signs he was not a guilty man, said law professor James Liebman.

Liebman and five of his students at Columbia School of Law spent almost five years poring over details of a case that he says is “emblematic” of legal system failure.

DeLuna, 27, was put to death after “a very incomplete investigation. No question that the investigation is a failure,” Liebman said.

This is a rare example of an “exoneration” that was arrived at by old fashioned investigation, without DNA evidence; most exonerations happen when there is DNA evidence available to test – South Carolina needs to come into the 21st century and pass laws to require preservation of DNA evidence and to enable at least those who make a threshold showing of innocence to test DNA in their cases.

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