The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution, by James S. Liebman ****

Has anyone ever been proved to have been executed in the USA for a crime s/he did not commit? I would have thought this was a no-brainer, but then, I have watched the so-called criminal “justice” system ruin basically good kids and incarcerate exponentially larger numbers of people—primarily people of color—for doing small things that would never touch a white person of material substance. I’ve seen it unfold in multiple cities and in diverse situations. It’s endemic. It amazes me that anyone felt a study needed to be done in order to demonstrate what is naked before our eyes in any major city and a lot of smaller towns, too.

However, apparently some academics at Columbia University believed the answer was less than clear, and so in the chillingly clinical writing of the intelligentsia, they lay out, sometimes minute by minute, sometimes hour by hour, the entire case of the murder of Wanda Lopez. Wanda was a convenience store clerk; Carlos Hernandez appears to have been a sadistic sociopath who enjoyed using his knife on human beings. (After being sent up once for using a gun, he drew the only natural conclusion: in the future, kill people using a knife, not a gun. Logical, right?)

There is testimony; there are photographs; and if you want to go online and watch videos (heaven help us all), you can do that too.

DNA tests should hypothetically be definitive in capital murder cases today, but they are very expensive and (as the recent Amanda Knox trial in Italy demonstrates), they can also be ambiguous. For example, one can argue whether a person’s DNA is present in a given place for a good reason; then too, DNA must be matched to someone who’s on file, and if the person in question has never been in trouble and got away clean, you might as well be holding yesterday’s newspaper as the DNA of who-knows-who.

Ultimately, as this case demonstrates using eerily dry language rather than the kind of compelling narrative one might generally expect, the courts spend more time and effort on those who are in a position to hire competent counsel, garner community support, and have others actively advocating for them. On the other hand, those who are alienated and dispossessed; those who fear law enforcement too much to come forward in someone else’s defense; those who don’t have the funds for transportation or who fear taking time off and losing the hard-won job that represents the thin, dim line between barely scraping by and being out on the street; these folks get sent up easily, and a case is closed.

Neither Carlos was an angel, goodness knows. The innocent-of-murder Carlos was a convicted rapist who pleaded no contest and admits that he tore a woman’s clothing off her body so he could force her to have sex. With the inclusion of such facts, the man who was executed becomes a much less sympathetic character, but the point of the Columbia scholars is not to restore the good name of Carlos DeLuna or to excoriate the memory of Carlos Hernandez (also dead now); it is to prove the point they set out to prove: at least one person has been sent to his death when he was innocent of the crime for which he was executed. If anyone doubts the truth of this statement, I invite them to read this cold, horrible indictment of the US “Justice” system.

For some of us, there was no doubt to begin with.

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