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The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution Paperback – July 8, 2014
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Given the quality of the work and the importance of the subject, this book will become a classic in the field. It is as good a book about the death penalty as I have ever read. (Austin Sarat, Amherst College)
Wrenching... death penalty opponents now have a definitive example to cite; death penalty proponents have an agonizing case to consider. (Kirkus (Starred Review))
A gripping read. (Library Journal)
[An] infuriating yet engrossing book on wrongful conviction... An important critique of our legal system. (Publishers Weekly)
This case is examined to such an earth's-core depth - the book is full of site maps and footnotes and its website features much more – that readers will come away absolutely convinced that the conviction of Carlos DeLuna was a profound injustice. (Boston Globe)
A sad, absorbing, and profoundly important tale of a wrongful conviction and execution. Everyone with an interest in criminal justice and every public official with responsibility in this realm should place it high on their reading list. (The Champion)
In 1989, Carlos DeLuna, a poor Hispanic man with childlike intelligence, was executed in Texas 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. The Wrong Carlos documents DeLuna's conviction, which was based on a single, nighttime, cross-ethnic eyewitness identification with no corroborating forensic evidence. At his trial, the prosecution branded DeLuna as a liar for fabricating Carlos Hernandez, the man he identified as the real killer. The evidence the Columbia team uncovered reveals that Hernandez not only existed but was well known to the police and prosecutors and had a long history of violent crimes, especially against women. This book and its Web site (thewrongcarlos.net) 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 principal investigators conclude with suggestions for improving accuracy among the police, prosecutors, forensic scientists, and judges.
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The authors set out in detail the murder in 1983 of gas store clerk Wanda Lopez, the subsequent police response and investigation, the trial and appeals process and the execution of the man found guilty. Their research includes interviews with many of the participants in the events as well as exhaustive documentary research. Their conclusion that the wrong man was executed for the murder is utterly convincing. They document the disturbingly unprofessional approach by many police, lawyers and judges that led to the terrible error. They say that, between the crime and Carlos DeLuna's execution in 1989, not one police officer, defence lawyer or judge insisted on a conscientious search for Lopez's real killer.
They set the savage crime in the context of the society in which it occurred and bring humanity to the victim and the two Carloses of the title through interviews with people who knew them well.
The powerless, poor Lopez and the child-like executed man find powerful voice in this unforgettable history.
The authors do an excellent job of laying out the facts of Wanda Lopez's murder, as well as giving us background into the early lives of both Carlos DeLuna and Carlos Hernandez. Much of the text reads like a crime novel. The narrative flows well and the authors avoid the complicated legal jargon as much as possible. When needed, the issues are explained so that the casual reader without a law degree understands.
Details are not spared here. Wanda Lopez's murder was brutal and vicious, and the authors make sure we 'see' that. This story is not for the squeamish. But I do not fault the authors for providing the gory details. In fact, I believe those details were necessary for this case to be fully understood.
There is no doubt that an innocent man was put to death, murdered by our justice system, by us. While that in itself is appalling, the injustices run far deeper. During the time an innocent man was persecuted, the guilty man went along his destructive path unimpeded. His name and reputation were fully known to law enforcement. He flaunted his crimes, bragged about his killings. Innocent people died and lives were forever altered. Had even one person done his/her job correctly along the way, lives could have been spared.
Because this case is old, you might think things have improved. But, despite our scientific advancements, the core problems still exist. Eye witness accounts are notoriously faulty. Wealthy have advantages over poor. Prejudices form opinions and therefore alter the course of investigations. Incompetence does not exist in a vacuum. And Carlos DeLuna is not the only innocent person society has or will fail to protect.