I went into reading The Wrong Carlos without knowledge of the murder of Wanda Lopez or the arrest and execution of Carlos DeLuna. I didn’t choose this book based on subject matter, but because of how this book came to be. This is a book that was born out of curiosity, a desire to understand, and the drive to apply that knowledge with a critical eye. Columbia School of Law Professor Jim Liebman is a leading expert on the death penalty. In 2000 and 2002, Liebman published two studies on the American justice system, specifically errors in capital cases between 1973 – 1995. In 2003, Leibman, along with Columbia law student Douglas Jaffe, decided to search for a case study in which the courts got it wrong. That case study eventually turned into a 400 page article in the Columbia Human Rights Law Review titled Los Tocayos Carlos. Its subject: Carlos DeLuna. That case study became this book.
The other reason why this book appealed to me for this project is that it is an interactive reading experience. Let me explain. As part of what became the Columbia DeLuna Project, a website was created that provided primary source documents on DeLuna’s case. Among these primary source documents were court records, police reports of the investigation, photographs, maps, timelines, and interviews. I was be able to see the evidence before reading the narrative. It provided me an opportunity to see something without context and to later judge my preconceived notions and bias. This idea fascinated me in the age of Nancy Grace, Making a Murderer, and trial proceedings for high profile cases finding their way on YouTube.
This book was a difficult read. Part of the difficulty was setting aside my 2017 standards for those that existed when the crime took place in 1983, especially in regards to the crime scene. That said, even without today’s science, the handling of the eye-witness identification, crime scene management, investigation, prosecution, and later appeals is disturbing, especially considering another man was named the real perpetrator of the crime by several individuals and that man walked from from killing other women – twice. That man also was a police informant with several parole violations that were either not reported or ignored.
I don’t want to give away too much of DeLuna’s story, but what happened in Corpus Christi, Texas to Carlos DeLuna should never have happened. With the sheer amount of exonerations of the past decade, it makes me wonder how many other people are sitting behinds bars for a crime they did not commit and no one wants to listen to them because of who they are, where they come from, or the money they do not have. It also makes me question how many people have been innocently put to death because of police departments wanting to cover their asses, prosecutorial misconduct, investigative bias, and ineffective counsel.
For my project, I reached out via or other messaging to a few people involved in DeLuna’s case – the lead detective, two prosecutors, and the fingerprint technician, none of which still work in law enforcement. As of the writing of this entry, I have received no response.