home

Texecution: Was He Innocent?

Bump and update: Don't miss part two and three of the Houston Chronicle series on Ruben Cantu. Also, Instapundit weighs in with some criticism for the prosecutor in the case and the system in general. Law Prof Dan Markel has more thoughts.

***********
Original Post:

Did Texas execute an innocent man - one who was 17 at the time of his alleged crime and had no prior convictions? The Houston Chronicle today features the case of Ruben Cantu. The paper conducted its own investigation and concludes most likely he was innocent.

Four days after a Bexar County jury delivered its verdict, Cantu wrote this letter to the residents of San Antonio: "My name is Ruben M. Cantu and I am only 18 years old. I got to the 9th grade and I have been framed in a capital murder case."

A dozen years after his execution, a Houston Chronicle investigation suggests that Cantu, a former special-ed student who grew up in a tough neighborhood on the south side of San Antonio, was likely telling the truth.

< The Exorbitant Cost of the Death Penalty | PFAW Releases Anti-Alito Ad >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft


  • Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#1)
    by Dadler on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:18 PM EST
    Such a disgrace to our supposedly civilized nation. Rent the documentary "The Thin Blue Line" for an up close and personal account of an innocent guy who was steps away from being executed. He got lucky, Ruben Cantu and how many more don't? Or never will.

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#2)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:18 PM EST
    Execution is another example in a long list of reasons why America must get back to is's true liberal nature and it's founding fathers intent.

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#3)
    by Edger on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:18 PM EST
    Frances Newton was executed, also in Texas, on September 14 of this year. TL had a thread about her, and I'll quote myself from that thread:
    I disagree with the death penalty, and think it should be outlawed. Life imprisonment without parole would remove any future danger to society, and at the same time allow for opportunity for review and release of persons found to be convicted in error. Erring on the side of caution is, I think, the moral imperative here. Admittedly, this would not be an ideal solution, since we could never give back years taken from the life of an innocent person convicted and sentenced in error. On the other hand, courts, and juries are human and not infallible... and we cannot restore life to a person executed in error. The only justification I can see for the death penalty appears to be revenge and retribution.
    Ruben Cantu's unreasonably shortened life is one more good and strong reason to do away with the death penalty... There are no reasons that can adequately justify it.

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#4)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:18 PM EST
    This is just outrageous. Just watch, though, all you will get from court and prosecuting officials will be "oops. oh well." Write your legislators; do something. The death penalty: 1. Fosters cultures of retribution that increases crime. 2. Contributes to the sense of the worthlessness of certain lives, increasing crime. 3. Kills innocent people too often, increasing crime

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#5)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:20 PM EST
    This issue is discussed over at Prawfsblawg here

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#6)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:22 PM EST
    deleted

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#8)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:22 PM EST
    Cpinva -- If you're really interested in the reality of the death penalty in this country, there are many authoritative sources. Check out the website for the Southern Center For Human Rights (www.schr.org) and read some of Stephen Bright's law review articles. The following is from one of those: The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals has made clear its indifference to the quality of legal representation of those facing death at trial by upholding at least three death sentences from Houston, in which the lawyer for the defendant slept during trial. One of those trials was described in the Houston Chronicle as follows: Seated beside his client - a convicted capital murderer - defense attorney John Benn spent much of Thursday afternoon's trial in apparent deep sleep. His mouth kept falling open and his head lolled back on his shoulders, and then he awakened just long enough to catch himself and sit upright. Then it happened again. And again. And again. Every time he opened his eyes, a different prosecution witness was on the stand describing another aspect of the Nov. 19, 1991, arrest of George McFarland in the robbery-killing of grocer Kenneth Kwan. When state District Judge Doug Shaver finally called a recess, Benn was asked if he truly had fallen asleep during a capital murder trial. "It's boring," the 72-year-old longtime Houston lawyer ex-plained. . . . Court observers said Benn seems to have slept his way through virtually the entire trial. The judge presiding over McFarland's trial in Houston permitted the trial to continue on the theory that "[t]he Constitution doesn't say the lawyer has to be awake." The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed, over the dissent of Judges Baird and Overstreet. Judge Baird wrote, "[a] sleeping counsel is unprepared to present evidence, to cross-examine witnesses, and to present any coordinated effort to evaluate evidence and present a defense."

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#7)
    by cpinva on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:23 PM EST
    ray, you're taking up good bandwidth for that trash. you all must be wrong. you see, no innocent person has ever been convicted, much less executed, in this fair land of ours. it just cannot happen. so i've been told by many more educated than i. those people may not have been actually guilty of the crime convicted of, but they were surely guilty of something warranting death. that's all that really matters. i'm interested in what the jury had to say, if anything, given the apparent thinness of the state's case. how could they, in good conscience, convict him?

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#9)
    by jen on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:23 PM EST
    Doesn't it ever bother any Texans (or any state that kills without regard to actual guilt) that for each innocent convicted someone gets away with murder (or rape or whatever)

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#10)
    by kdog on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:23 PM EST
    Will the arresting officer, the prosecutor, the jurors, and the executioner be tried as accessories to murder?

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#11)
    by BigTex on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:23 PM EST
    Doesn't it ever bother any Texans ... that for each innocent convicted someone gets away with murder [?]
    Yes, but it is the best we can do right now. The system needs work, as mentioned in the exorbent cost thread, but the system is the lesser of evils at the moment.

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#12)
    by Sailor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:23 PM EST
    BigTex, killing innocent human beings is the lesser of 2 evils!?

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#13)
    by BigTex on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:24 PM EST
    Sailor - The issue isn't the killing of innocent human beings. They will be killed regardless. The issue is the amount of innocent human beings killed. When looked at from the morality of reducing the number of innocent deaths, the lesser evil is using capitol punishment. Fewer falsely convicted are killed than would die at the hands of correctly convicted if they were not issued capitol punishment.

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#14)
    by BigTex on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:24 PM EST
    For a more detailed discussion, see the post on exorbant cost of CP thread below. It is Post # 31.

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#15)
    by Edger on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:24 PM EST
    Fewer falsely convicted are killed than would die at the hands of correctly convicted if they were not issued capitol punishment.
    With what data can you support that statement?

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#16)
    by jen on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:24 PM EST
    Big Tex that may be the best system you have but that does not explain such rabid resistence to taking a second look at possible innocence when new evidence emerges. Its almost as if people think it is better to let a hundred murderers get away with it than to release one innocent man after conviction.

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#17)
    by BigTex on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:24 PM EST
    that does not explain such rabid resistence to taking a second look at possible innocence when new evidence emerges.
    Agreed, as was noted in the thread below. Cartinaly the system needs improvement. But the system needs to remain in place.

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#18)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:24 PM EST
    In America you execute more people than any other country except China Iran and Vietnam. Youe execute more children than any other country. Murder and crime rates are much lower in Europe where there is no death penalty. In 2004, 97 per cent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, Viet Nam and the USA. Based on public reports available, Amnesty International estimated that at least 3,400 people were executed in China during the year, although the true figures were believed to be much higher. In March 2004 a delegate at the National People's Congress said that "nearly 10,000" people are executed per year in China. Iran executed at least 159 people, and Viet Nam at least 64. There were 59 executions in the USA, down from 65 in 2003. International human rights treaties prohibit anyone under 18 years old at the time of the crime being sentenced to death or executed. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child and the American Convention on Human Rights all have provisions to this effect. More than 110 countries whose laws still provide for the death penalty for at least some offences have laws specifically excluding the execution of child offenders or may be presumed to exclude such executions by being parties to one or another of the above treaties. A small number of countries, however, continue to execute child offenders. Eight countries since 1990 are known to have executed prisoners who were under 18 years old at the time of the crime China, Congo (Democratic Republic), Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, USA and Yemen. China, Pakistan and Yemen have raised the minimum age to 18 in law, and Iran is reportedly in the process of doing so. The USA executed more child offenders than any other country (19 between 1990 and 2003).

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#19)
    by BigTex on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:24 PM EST
    You[] execute more children than any other country.
    That is facially untrue as of 2005. You are either not up with current law, or intentionally leaving out the latest US law for your own cheap points european. The United States Supreme Court has ended the so called execution of minors... note they were minors when they committed the crime, but not when executed. Whether you know what you are talking about and not being forthright, or are simply uninformed is moot. Looking at your post, you clearly are playing a numbers game to satisfy your smug sense of eurpoean superiority. Same goes for the last two paragraphs you wrote.
    crime rates are much lower in Europe
    Also in Aruba. But that is in part because of the lower amount of illegal activities. You have to have illegal activities to have crime. Throw out drug offenses and how do the crime rates compair? I don't know, but they are closer. Throw out MIP and they are closer still.
    In 2004, 97 per cent of all known executions took place in China, Iran, Viet Nam and the USA.
    The vast majority of which were in China. What is the percentage of US executions of the world total?

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#20)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:24 PM EST
    Apologies. I didn't know thaat the law has- at last - been changed and that you no longer execute people who committed their crime when they were minors. Welcome to the world. Why are murder rates so much higher in your conuttry which has the death penalty. Doesn't seem to help very much.

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#21)
    by Sailor on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:24 PM EST
    BigTex, I respectfully submit that killing innocent people is wrong, and if the state does it it's worse, because then all of us have that blood of innocent's on our hands. Especially when one considers that for every innocent person convicted/killed a murderer went free to kill again. I also submit LWOP is a worse sentence for a murderer, and for the innocent person at least it provides some form of delayed justice.

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#22)
    by BigTex on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:24 PM EST
    Sailor - "I respectfully submit " thank you for the gentle reminder that my rehtoric was not to the level I strive to keep it at. At it's most basic level, capitol punishment is a form of state sponsored killing not unlike in effect to assassination or state sponsored terrorism. The aversion to this act is understandable. You also make an excellent point about each false conviction leading to death is an instance where the true perpitrator is free to strike again. However, disagree stems from the different viewpoints from which we view the issue. It appears that you view the issue as an innocent being executed as an ill that is sufficient to stop the analysis at that point, and sufficient to condemn the process. OTOH, I view capitol punishment as one factor in an equasion where the ultimate goal is to reduce the amount of innocents killed in total. Both viewpoints have merit, and both viewpoints raise serious issued to be grappled with. So where does this leave us? Assuming that the two views are representative of a large segment of society, hopefully the common ground stands out. Neither view wants to see falsely convicted people receive capitol punishment. I submit that the path with the greatest chance to change the system for the better is not to focus on the abolition of capitol punishment, but to work together on areas of common ground to ensure that falsely convicted no not receive capitol punishment (and also are freed.) Admittedly, this serves my viewpoint more than your viewpoint. However this is not a self serving submission. Rather, this is seeing where common ground exists, and working together to the extent that the common ground allows. It is advancing both goals. To european - I apologize for the tone of my comments.

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#23)
    by Edger on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:25 PM EST
    Big Tex, It seems that your argument for CP is entirely based on three assumptions: 1) That all convicted of murder (if not later found to be convicted in error) will kill again, whether in prison or not. 2) That it is not possible that a rightly convicted murderer will not kill again. 3) That "Fewer falsely convicted are killed than would die at the hands of correctly convicted if they were not issued capitol punishment" (your words) #'s 1 & 2 I've inferred to be your opinion (I think reasonably) from the general tone and context of your general statements in this thread and in "The Exorbitant Cost..." thread. Regarding #3, I have previously asked you "With what data can you support that statement?" and you've declined to answer. I think you saw the question I posed, since you replied to the post by Jen which was immediately behind mine. 1) and 2) are opinion only. 3) I doubt can be supported with any published data (please correct me here if possible). All three you've used as justification for your assertion that "the lesser evil is using capitol punishment" (your words again) If we use an abitrary and hypothetical number of murderers as example for the sake of argument, say 100, and assume that each of them murdered only 1 person, then executing all of the murderers will result in 200 deaths. LWOP, in this example, would result in only 100 people having died, if security (which is a separate, distict, and important issue here) is robust enough to keep the murderers from killing again. Since you've also stated that your "ultimate goal is to reduce the amount of innocents killed in total", I ask you, based on the numbers (a word I shudder to use here, they are people), which is "the lesser evil"? LWOP, or CP?

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#24)
    by BigTex on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:25 PM EST
    Edger - Those are reasonable assumption, which are close to the belief system I have. To be a bit more percise 1) would be That all sentenced to CP (or meet the sentencing criteria in lieu of the falsely convicted)will kill again, whether in prison or not. At least here in TX, to be sentenced to death the assessor of punishment must decide 1) he (the condmned) is a continuing threat to society, and 3) that mitigating factors do not require a sentence of life with or without parole. 2) is irrelevent to this discussion. This isn't the exact special charge, which I can look up if necessary, but that is the general meaning of the special charges leading to CP being sentenced. If a jury of his peers found it likely that he is a continuing threat to society, then likely he will kill again. That is key to my determination. With 2) That it is not likely that a rightly condemned murderer will not kill again. Same reasoning as 1 vis a vis jury of peers. And number 3 is an opinion, to which I have no data, and am not sure if data could bear out either direction. It is simply a belief, that could change if credible data to the contrary were presented. However a jury has declared the person a continuing threat to society and that mitigating factors are not enough to warrant spaing his life. That weighs heavily in the thinking. Under your hypo, absent the security, CP would be a greater number of deaths in total, but fewer innocent deaths. The total is taken from 100 innocent killed by those who would have reveived CP - the number of falsely convicted reveiving CP. With the security measures, assuming some falsely convicted condmned, the total deaths would be 100, and undoubetedly the number of innocent deaths would be greater than the number of innocents spared because of CP.

    Re: Texecution: Was He Innocent? (none / 0) (#25)
    by Edger on Sat Dec 17, 2005 at 01:06:25 PM EST
    Big Tex, It is an issue with much complexity, and also strong emotional undertones, and not one likely to be resolved satisfactorily here, or anytime soon in the larger society. That is unfortunate, I think, but probably, in my opinion, reality. And there are strong arguments from both views. I think that the position any given person takes on this, including you and I (I will admit that for my part, so I know at at least 50% correct) will be driven mainly by emotional "comfort level". Without hard data, I will continue to push for LWOP, mostly based on an emotional bias that leans toward viewing people, even murderers, in terms of their future potential as human beings, rather than condemning them for their past. And I know at least one murderer personally, not executed, who I am nearly certain will never kill again. He suffers a great deal over his past action. His victim no longer does...