With 726 inmates sentenced to die, California has the largest death row in America. The state has executed just thirteen death row inmates since capital punishment was reinstated in 1977, and none since 2006. The path from conviction to lethal injection for those who were executed has taken as long as twenty-five years.
In May, the National Registry released a report describing the first 873 exonerations it identified – including seventy-nine state exonerations and one federal exoneration in California. The Report emphasized that the 873 were only a beginning—that the true number of exonerations still is unknown because there is no formal system for recording such cases as they occur.
Since then, the number of exonerations on the National Registry has grown to 996 and will soon top 1,000, according to Samuel Gross, Law Professor at the University of Michigan and editor of the Registry.
Andrew Cohen, legal analyst for CBS Radio News and 60 Minutes and contributing editor at The Atlantic, writes a compelling article dissecting the book-length investigation of the arrest, conviction and execution of Carlos DeLuna for a murder in 1983.
Titled “Yes, American, We Have Executed an Innocent Man,” Cohen notes that Steve Mills and I conducted our own investigation of the DeLuna case and wrote a three-part series published in 2006.
In particular, Cohen delivers a scathing criticism of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who ridiculed the proposition that an innocent defendant had been executed in America in an opinion on June 26, 2006, saying in part:
“If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops by the abolition lobby.”
The following day, the final installment of our series on the wrongful conviction of DeLuna was published in the Chicago Tribune.
Read Cohen’s Atlantic piece in its entirety HERE.
In 2005, James Liebman, a professor at Columbia Law School in New York, approached me and fellow Chicago Tribune reporter Steve Mills and asked if we would be interested in investigating a possible wrongful execution in Texas – -the case of Carlos DeLuna. Several months earlier, Steve and I had investigated and written an article that exposed how Cameron Todd Willingham had been executed in Texas for an arson fire that killed his three children.
Our investigation provided compelling evidence that the fire was not an arson and that Willingham was innocent. Liebman explained that his students and a private investigator had done preliminary work on the DeLuna case and had turned up some evidence that DeLuna was innocent. Liebman offered to turn over the results of their work and the documents they had collected. There were no strings.
Liebman put it simply: Take the case wherever you feel it needs to go. Pull no punches. Give it your best shot.
The result was a three part series, published in 2006, which not only provided strong evidence that DeLuna was innocent, but also identified the true killer.
Six years later, Liebman and company have published Los Tocayos Carlos – a book-length account of the DeLuna case, published in the Columbia Human Rights Review – complete with a robust, dynamic website crammed with video interviews, photographs, transcripts, and exhibits documenting the wrongful execution.
From “Death, Despair and Destruction: A Few Long Reads” by Sam Wooley/The Chicago Reader, May 16, 2012
On Monday night, the Columbia University Human Rights Review released its spring issue, which is dedicated entirely to a single legal case: the 1989 execution of Carlos DeLuna, which the Review claims was in error, for murdering a woman during a robbery in Corpus Christi in 1983. The entire report is online at thewrongcarlos.net. On the Atlantic website, Andrew Cohen provides a passionate distillation, beginning and ending with a mention of Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, who’s claimed that the history of capital punishment has been error-free. “If [a wrongful execution] had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it,” Scalia wrote in 2006. “[T]he innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops by the abolition lobby.”
No physical evidence and only one “sketchy” eyewitness tied DeLuna to the crime, Cohen notes, and it was “common knowledge” around Corpus Christi that another man, Carlos Hernandez, had committed the crime—it’s said that he “couldn’t stop bragging” about it. The Chicago Tribune has already investigated the DeLuna case. In 2006 reporters Steve Mills and Maurice Possley wrote that they “identified five people who say Hernandez told them that he stabbed Lopez and that De Luna, whom he called his ‘stupid tocayo,’ or namesake, went to Death Row in his place.”