Linda Perales provided Peso Chavez with a great deal of useful information, including that a man named Carlos Hernandez did exist and had said things to Perales' step-daughter and Hernandez's niece Pricilla suggesting that he, not the other Carlos, had killed Wanda Lopez. The interview with Pricilla then broke open the investigation. With information from her—most importantly Carlos Hernandez's Bastille Day birth date—the team had enough information to identify the relevant Hernandez and to document his outsized criminal record using publicly available files at the Nueces County Courthouse in Corpus Christi. Hernandez's criminal record led to Dina Ybañez, who also repeatedly heard Carlos Hernandez confess to murdering Wanda Lopez, as well as Dahlia Sauceda.
No less important to the subsequent investigation was Rene Rodriguez's civil suit against Diamond-Shamrock. Typically, defense lawyers representing a capital defendant get the only clear shot at police files in the case before trial. After that, the files are enshrouded in a veil of secrecy, guarded by law enforcement officials jealous to preserve their conviction and death sentence and to keep themselves beyond reproach. But in the late 1980s, Rodriguez used the subpoena power of a parallel civil suit against a private party to uncover a treasure trove of information in the case. That material is a testament to the ingenuity and persistence of Rene Rodriguez. Consider, again, a fortuity just mentioned. Had Rodriguez been Carlos DeLuna's lawyer, instead of the inexperienced Hector De Peña and the overworked James Lawrence, there almost certainly would have been no need for our later investigation.
Dumb luck—or an odd brand of hubris—also played a role in the 2004–05 investigation. Despite steps the Corpus Christi Police Department and prosecutors took that kept the tape recordings before and after Wanda Lopez's death from coming to light at the trial,105 it turned out that Jesse Escochea, the Police Department dispatcher on the night of Wanda's murder, had pirated a copy of the dispatch tape as a personal memento.106 That tape proved invaluable in recreating the events surrounding Wanda's murder and the subsequent manhunt.107
In this way, bit by bit, witness by witness, document by document, the team of investigators pieced together the evidence in 2004 and early 2005, until they arrived at their own conclusion about events that would have been so much easier to establish more than twenty years earlier: Carlos Hernandez murdered Wanda Lopez. Carlos DeLuna was put to death for another man's crime.
* * * * *
But this is not, in the main, a story about Peso Chavez, Rene Rodriguez, and other people who did their jobs well. It is a story of a system that failed from top to bottom—of people who failed to do their job from start to finish. The police failed to carry out a thorough investigation once they had Carlos DeLuna in custody and assumed he must be guilty.108 The prosecutors failed to bring in Carlos Hernandez after DeLuna gave up the name.109 Worse, they suggested there was no such person, despite the familiarity of one of them with a Carlos Hernandez who closely fit the bill.110
Those tasked with the critical duty of defending Carlos DeLuna against the failures of the state failed as well. His defense attorneys at trial did not aggressively pursue DeLuna's main line of defense—that Carlos Hernandez did it—and they didn't effectively exploit weaknesses in the prosecution's evidence.111 DeLuna's appellate lawyers likewise failed to take seriously their obligation to look into Carlos's innocence and, until the very end when it was too late, did not effectively illuminate the flaws that led to his conviction and death sentence.112
For their part, the courts did little to provide a failsafe against the miscarriage of justice. The trial court in Corpus Christi, acting through a retired judge from Houston who occasionally presided over trials in Corpus on a precarious sinecure,113 contributed to inadequate representation by appointing inexperienced and overtaxed attorneys and providing too few resources and too little time to permit a real investigation.114 The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals similarly tolerated poor representation, reflected in the subpar briefs filed in DeLuna's first appeal and in his initial round of state and federal habeas corpus proceedings.115 The state habeas courts devoted only a few days to proceedings that in nearly all other states would have merited several years.116 And the federal habeas courts failed to provide the last line of defense, not even paying enough attention to the record to notice Richard Anderson's clear misstatement of the date on which the Corpus Christi Caller Times reported on Carlos Hernandez's arrest for the murder of Dahlia Sauceda.117
See supra Chapter 2, notes 116–249 and accompanying text.
See supra Chapter 11, notes 131–137 and accompanying text.
See e.g., Carol S. Steiker & Jordan M. Steiker, A Tale of Two Nations: Implementation of the Death Penalty in "Executing" Versus "Symbolic" States in the United States, 84 Tex. L. Rev. 1869, 1885–86 (2006) (discussing failure of the Texas appeal system to provide adequate counsel in death penalty cases); Ned Waplin, Why Is Texas #1 in Executions?, Death Penalty Info. Ctr. (Dec. 5, 2000), http://www.deathpenaltyinfo.org/node/583 ("[T]he amount the state is willing to pay lawyers for these [post-conviction] appeals is sufficiently low that most defendants still do not receive counsel for their appeals."); supra Chapter 15, notes 63–64, 106, 119 and accompanying text.
See supra Chapter 15, notes 110–113 and accompanying text.
See supra Chapter 15, notes 166–175 and accompanying text.