Last night ABC’s Nightline gave us the first details of the case of Carlos De Luna. The investigation was apparently first initiated by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which got the Chicago Tribune interested and then ABC’s Nightline joined the effort a few months ago. The involvement of the NCADP LDEF should come as no surprise, since they were also responsible for spearheading investigations that uncovered the probable wrongful executions of Larry Griffin in Missouri and Ruben Cantu in Texas.
A few notes from the Nightline broadcast:
Wanda Lopez was killed in 1983 in a Corpus Christi convenience store where she was working. She had called 911 after seeing a man with a knife in the store. The man began attacking her and her last screams are recorded on the 911 call. Carlos De Luna was arrested about 40 minutes after the murder hiding under a pick-up truck. He says he ran and hid because he had seen all the commotion and was scared. He was identified by an eyewitness and later convicted and sentenced to death.
Carlos De Luna was convicted and executed based on one nighttime eyewitness account. There was no physical evidence linking De Luna to the crime. Despite a bloody crime scene typical of a stabbing death, not a drop of blood was found on De Luna, even though he was arrested within an hour of the crime. There were no fingerprints found at the crime scene that matched De Luna’s. He was executed in 1989 – proclaiming his innocence to the end. Almost immediately after the crime, tipsters had begun telling the police that another man named Carlos Hernandez had been bragging that he had killed Lopez. One person said that Hernandez said that “Lopez had got the best of my knife”. Hernandez had been well-known in the area for carrying a knife. He was later convicted of another crime and died in prison from liver disease.
Rose Rhotan, sister of De Luna, was interviewed on Nightline saying everyone in the family knew “they were executing the wrong person”.
ABC will air more information on the Carlos De Luna case on tonight’s Weekend Edition of World News Tonight.
The Chicago Tribune will start publishing a three part series on the case tomorrow, Sunday, June 24, 2006.
Click Click here to see The Chicago Tribune’s preview of the story. The link contains a short video preview of the story.