In February 1983, Wanda Lopez, was stabbed to death during her night shift at the gas station where she worked. After a brief manhunt, police found De Luna hiding under a pick-up truck. Recently released from prison, he was violating his parole by drinking in public. De Luna immediately told police that he was innocent and he offered the name of the person who he saw at the gas station. Police ignored the fact that he did not have a drop of blood on him even though the crime scene was covered in blood. De Luna was arrested too soon after the crime to clean himself up. The single eyewitness to the crime, Kevin Baker, confirmed to police that De Luna was the murderer after police told him he was the right guy.
At trial De Luna named Carlos Hernandez as the man he saw inside the gas station, across the street from the bar where De Luna had been drinking. Hernandez and DeLuna were strikingly similar in appearance but, unlike DeLuna, Hernandez had a long history of knife attacks similar to the convenience store killing and repeatedly told friends and relatives that he had committed the murder. Friends confirmed that he was romantically linked to Lopez as well. De Luna’s lawyers knew of Hernandez’s criminal past but never thoroughly investigated his previous crimes. On December 7, 1989, Texas executed 27-year old Carlos De Luna.
On June 26, 1980 in St. Louis, Missouri, 19-year-old Quintin Moss was killed in a drive-by shooting while allegedly dealing drugs on a street corner. The conviction was based largely on the testimony from Robert Fitzgerald, a white career criminal, who was at the scene at the time of the murder. He testified that he saw three black men in the car when shots were fired and that Griffin shot the victim through the window of the car with his right hand. This was Griffin’s attorney’s first murder trial and he did not challenge the testimony even though Griffin was left-handed. He also failed to bring forth an alibi witness who was with Griffin at the time of the murder.
Griffin’s fingerprints were not found on the car or the weapon – all evidence against him was circumstantial. There is evidence that suggests Fitzgerald was promised a reduce sentence in exchange for his testimony. The prosecution also failed to address that there were two other witnesses who confirmed that Griffin did not commit the murder and they were able to name the three men who did.Appeals courts upheld his conviction and death sentence. Griffin was executed by lethal injection on June 21, 1995. Griffin maintained his innocence right up to his execution. In 2005, a professor University of Michigan Law School reopened the case. His investigation concluded that Griffin was innocent.
On the night of November 8, 1984, Ruben Cantu and his friend David Garza, broke into a vacant San Antonio house under construction and robbed two men at gunpoint. The two victims, Pedro Gomez and Juan Moreno, had been workmen sleeping on floor mattresses at a construction site, guarding against burglary. As they tried to take their cash, they were interrupted by Gomez’s attempt to retrieve a pistol hidden under his mattress. The boys shot both men killing Gomez instantly. Thinking they had killed both men, the two teens then fled the scene.
The police showed Moreno photos of suspects, which included Cantu’s picture, and he was unable to identify his attacker. On the basis of no physical evidence, no confession, and only Moreno’s subsequently recanted testimony, a jury convicted Ruben Cantu of first-decree murder. Juan Moreno now says that he had felt pressure from the police to finger Cantu. David Garza, Cantu’s codefendant, has since admitted involvement in the burglary, assault and murder. He says he did go inside the house with another boy, did participate in the robbery, and saw the murder take place, but that his accomplice was not Ruben Cantu.On August 24, 1993, Ruben Cantu at the age of 26, was executed by lethal injection. His final request was for a piece of bubble gum, which was denied.
In 1982, David Spence was accused of the rape and murder of two 17-year-old girls and one 18-year-old boy in Waco, Texas. He received the death penalty in two trials for the murders. Muneer Deeb, a convenience store owner, hired Spence to do the murders and he was also charged and sentenced to death. He received a new trial in 1993 and was later acquitted.
The prosecution built its case against Spence around bite marks that a state expert said matched Spence’s teeth and jailhouse snitches. Two of the six jailhouse witnesses who testified at trial later recanted, saying they were given cigarettes, television and alcohol privileges, and conjugal visits for their testimonies. Spence’s post-conviction lawyers had a blind panel study in which five experts said the bite marks could not be matched to Spence’s. Even the original homicide investigator on the case said he had serious doubts about Spence’s guilt and a former Waco police detective involved in the case said he did not think Spence committed the crime. David Spence was executed by lethal injection on April 14, 1997.
On the morning of February 20, 1976, Highway Patrol officer, Phillip Black, and Donald Irwin, approached a car parked at a rest stop for a routine check. Tafero, his partner Sonia “Sunny” Jacobs, and Walter Rhodes were found asleep inside. Black saw a gun lying on the floor inside the car so he woke the occupants and had them come out of the car. According to Rhodes, Tafero then shot both Black and Irwin with the gun, which was illegally registered to Jacobs, led the others into the police car and fled the scene. All three were arrested after being caught in a roadblock. The gun was found in Tafero’s waistband.
At their trial, Rhodes testified that Tafero and Jacobs were solely responsible for the murders. Tafero and Jacobs were convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death while Rhodes was sentenced to 3 life sentences. Rhodes was eventually released in 1994 following parole for good behavior. Because the jury had recommended a life sentence for Jacobs, the court commuted Jacobs’ sentence to life in prison, but not Tafero’s. She was later released after agreeing to a plea bargain. Prior to his release, Rhodes confessed several times to lying about his involvement in the shooting. Even Sunny Jacobs claimed that Rhodes, not Tafero, carried out the shooting as well. Rhodes was the only person on which traces of gunpowder were found. Tafero was executed by electric chair on May 4, 1990. The chair malfunctioned causing the process to take over 13 minutes.
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