DYK (#5) Innocent and Executed

Former Supreme Court Justice Scalia once contended that if an innocent person had been executed their name “…Would be shouted from the rooftops by the abolition lobby.”(Kansas v. Marsh).  The fact is that both abolitionists and many journalists have been doing just that with numerous cases, but whether the Justices are listening or not is another question. There is significant evidence that the US, and specifically Texas, have executed innocent people such as Carlos De Luna, Ruben Cantu, and Cameron Todd Willingham. Given that we currently have seen 164 people exonerated from Death Row nationally, we can be sure based on probability alone that there are more than these three that were innocent out of the more than 550 Texans executed since 1976. The question Texans must ask ourselves about innocence is not whether it is an issue but  rather “How many innocent people will die before we put executions to rest?”.

The cases of Ruben Cantu and Carlos De Luna were based on flawed eyewitness testimony which was later shown to be unreliable, while Todd Willingham was convicted on problematic “scientific” evidence.

Ruben Cantu was a teenager when a witness to a robbery-murder identified him as the shooter–four months after the incident. The witness later recanted saying that he was pressured by police to identify Cantu, who had recently been in a violent altercation with a local policeman. The District Attorney who prosecuted Cantu now feels that he helped execute an innocent man. “Death Row Stories” on CNN covered his case in 2015:


Carlos De Luna was identified as the suspect in a robbery-murder that he witnessed and fled due to fear over his parole status. De Luna was found hiding from police while the “other Carlos” was not found and police did not believe he existed.  Witnesses who saw a Hispanic man of similar age and appearance flee the store into the night were easily convinced that Carlos De Luna was the man they saw. The work of a private investigative team later proved that the original descriptions did not match De Luna’s outfit, and that the “Other Carlos” did exist. His case is covered extensively at the book/webpage for “The Wrong Carlos”  and in various other articles such as “Yes, America, We Have Executed an Innocent Man.”

Cameron Todd Willingham was convicted and executed for intentionally killing his children in a house fire. As forensic sciences improved, the fire theory used to convict him was called in to question by many experts. It is now widely thought that the fire was not intentional. His case is examined in documentary films such as  Death by Fire and Incendiary. 

Come back tomorrow for more facts and as always, feel free to leave comments and questions below.

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