It was a horrible coincidence: he had the same first name as the killer and looked uncannily like him, too. On top of that, Carlos DeLuna was also at the scene of the crime when it took place in 1989 and he paid the ultimate price. DeLuna received the death penalty at age 27 for the murder of Wanda Lopez, a single mother working at a Corpus Christi gas station. A team of five Columbia Law students recently uncovered the horrible truth behind DeLuna's punishment–that he was the wrong man.
Wanda Lopez was murdered in February 1983 at a Corpus Christi gas station with a switchblade. Lopez called police twice for help against the individual with the switch blade. Forty minutes after Lopez was murdered, police arrested DeLuna after one eyewitness claimed to have seen a Hispanic man running from the gas station. The only problem was that DeLuna didn't match the description of the man the person claimed to have seen running from the station. The eyewitness said that man had a mustache and was wearing a flannel shirt, whereas DeLuna was freshly shaven and was wearing a white dress shirt. It didn't matter because DeLuna was arrested anyway.
DeLuna maintained throughout his testimony at his trial that he knew who had killed the woman at the gas station and that he had only run from police that night because he was on parole and had been drinking that day. DeLuna claimed that Carlos Hernandez murdered the woman at the gas station with a switchblade, but the lead prosecutor taunted DeLuna that Hernandez was merely a figment of his imagination. Hernandez was later jailed for murdering another woman with the same switchblade that he used that night in Corpus Christi. DeLuna's hasty trial resulted in his death by lethal injection in 1989, although Hernandez repeatedly admitted that he had committed the crime while in jail.
This type of story exemplifies the fact that the death penalty is wrong and that a perfect storm of events–poor legal representation, relying on one eyewitness testimony, and prosecutorial misconduct–can lead to the death of an innocent man.
recently named in the 2009 edition of Best Lawyer's In America, David Mittleman has been representing seriously injured people since 1985. A partner with Church Wyble PC—a division of Grewal Law PLLC—Mr. Mittleman and his partners focus on medical malpractice, wrongful death, car accidents, slip and falls, nursing home injury, pharmacy/pharmacist negligence and disability claims.