A posthumous inquiry into Carlos DeLuna's case did not originally look promising. As a law professor colleague said at the time, DeLuna's "some other dude named Carlos" defense looked absurd on its face. Nevertheless, Peso Chavez, an investigator from Santa Fe, New Mexico, was on his way to Corpus Christi on another case, and the Columbia team figured it couldn't hurt to have him spend an extra day looking into DeLuna's claim that a killer named Carlos Hernandez had escaped responsibility for stabbing Wanda Lopez to death. As it turned out, there was much to be found.
Chavez began by contacting people mentioned in the trial transcript who might have come across Hernandez. He first went to Mary Ann and Linda Perales. The Perales sisters had played a supporting role in Carlos DeLuna's trial, because he had testified that they were present when he first saw Hernandez on the night of the attack on Wanda Lopez.94 Chavez was able to locate both sisters, but Mary Ann's husband told him she was not interested in talking. Linda, however, agreed to talk briefly.
This case is full of tragic fortuities that sealed the fate of Wanda Lopez and Carlos DeLuna. An example is the failure of the operator who took Wanda Lopez's first 911 call to pick up her second call several minutes later, before the untrained Jesse Escochea answered it.95 Another is the coincidence of Esther Barrera's distracting phone call to the 911 operator at the very moment police officers were closing in on the man they had chased from the Shamrock Station north along Dodd Street and east along McArdle Road to the Domino's Pizza at Kostoryz.96 A third fortuity is Judge Blackmon's decision to appoint an inexperienced general practitioner, Hector De Peña, to represent Carlos DeLuna in 1983,97 rather than an ambitious full-time criminal defense lawyer such as Albert Peña, who brilliantly saved Jesse Garza from conviction for Carlos Hernandez's killing of Dahlia Sauceda in 1980,98 or Jon Kelly, who adeptly turned Ken Botary's inability to keep track of important evidence into a "get out of jail free" card for Carlos Hernandez following his 1986 arrest for the Sauceda killing.99 Peso Chavez's choice of Linda Perales as the recipient of his second phone call, and her willingness to talk to him, are fortunate circumstances of a lower order of importance. But in the scheme of this investigation, they were no less consequential, and are fitting testaments to Chavez's instincts and skills as an investigator.
Carlos DeLuna's family lived for years in the Armada housing project in central Corpus Christi. Carlos Hernandez's family was rooted in the bayside barrio further north and east.100 Although Carlos DeLuna found his way to the latter area when he briefly joined Carlos Hernandez's circle in 1977 and 1978101—evidently making the connection through the Casino Club and possibly the nomadic Aida Sosa102—only one of the many dozens of people identified in our investigation had strong connections to both families. That person was Linda Perales, who had dated and briefly was married to Carlos DeLuna's brother Manuel, and was the step-mother of Carlos Hernandez's tragically abused niece Pricilla.103 No other person in our entire investigation could have provided the link that Linda Perales did. The project almost certainly would not have gotten off the ground, therefore, if Chavez had not found Linda Perales in the one day allotted for his search for Carlos Hernandez. Joining Chavez in the ensuing investigation, and exercising the same deftness and dedication, were Lauren Eskenazi, Susan Montez, Mort Smith, Sita Sovin, and Bruce Whitman.
Looked at another way, however, Chavez and the rest of the 2004–05 investigation team did nothing more than the professionals responsible for Carlos DeLuna's case could and should have done between 1983 and 1989. DeLuna told his lawyers, who told the prosecution team, that Linda Perales was a link between him and Hernandez,104 and she was no less accessible to DeLuna's lawyers and law enforcement from his arrest in 1983 until his execution in 1989 than she was to Peso Chavez in 2004. The most tragic fortuity of all for Carlos DeLuna—as also for Wanda Lopez's right to justice and Dina Ybañez's right to the protection of the law—was the failure of even one of the many police officers, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and investigators or judges handling the DeLuna case between 1983 to 1989 to insist upon a more conscientious search for Wanda Lopez's killer.
See supra Chapter 8, notes 75–81 and accompanying text.
See supra Chapter 2, notes 206–248 and accompanying text.
See supra Chapter 11, notes 23–44 and accompanying text.
See supra Chapter 7, notes 184–203 and accompanying text.