Lead Texas Investigator in Possible Wrongful Execution Had History of Misjudgment, Mistaken Arrests

According to a report by the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News, the police sergeant in charge of the investigation that led to the possible wrongful execution of Ruben Cantu in Texas had a record of wrongful arrests and was suspended three times for errors in judgment during his three decades with the San Antonio Police Department. Official documents examined by the papers revealed that Sergeant Bill Ewell, who supervised the homicide unit and was one of the driving forces behind the 1985 capital murder conviction of Cantu, participated in at least two documented faulty arrests during his years of service. Both of those cases involved Ewell's friend and colleague, officer Joe De La Luz, whom Cantu shot and wounded in a pool hall brawl in 1985. Though that incident was unrelated to the crime for which Cantu was ultimately executed, De La Luz's shooting resulted in Ewell's rekindled interest in Cantu as a suspect in an unsolved capital murder for which he was later convicted and executed.

The state's death penalty case against Cantu relied heavily on the testimony of the crime's only surviving eyewitness, Juan Moreno, a 19-year-old illegal immigrant. During initial questioning about the case, Moreno rejected Cantu's photo in a lineup of potential suspects. After Cantu shot De La Luz, Ewell ordered investigators to question Moreno a second and third time. Moreno now says that during the questioning he was pressured by police to identify Cantu as the murderer. His testimony during Cantu's trial was the only piece of evidence linking Cantu to the murder. Both Ewell and De La Luz also testified at Cantu's trial, but neither the jurors nor the attorneys heard about their friendship or about the dubious arrests they had made together. Sam Millsap, the former Bexar County district attorney who made the decision to seek the death penalty in the Cantu case, now says that he is troubled by the fact that Ewell and De La Luz's friendship went undisclosed during the trial. He notes that a close friend of De La Luz's should have had nothing to do with investigating Cantu in the pool hall shooting or the unrelated capital murder case.


A new report issued by the American Bar Association's Death Penalty Moratorium Implementation Project found that Alabama's death penalty fails to meet fundamental ABA standards of fairness and accuracy. An eight-member assessment team assembled in Alabama by the ABA was so troubled by its findings that it called for a moratorium on executions in the state.

The team urged lawmakers

NEW RESOURCE: Study Finds Racial Disparities in Colorado's Death Penalty

A new study examined all cases in which the death penalty was sought in Colorado over a 20-year period, from 1980 to 1999. The study identified 110 death penalty cases, and compared the race and gender of the victims.  The authors concluded that the death penalty was most likely to be sought for homicides with white female victims. They also determined that the probability of death being sought was 4.2 times higher for those who killed whites than for those who killed blacks.

OP-ED: At the 30th Anniversary of Gregg v. Georgia, Death Penalty Remains Arbitrary

Professor Michael Meltsner, who worked as an attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in its efforts to challenge the death penalty in the 1960s and 70s, recently assessed the U.S.'s application of the death penalty over the past 30 years. He noted that today's death penalty system is "broken" and fails to make the nation a safer society. Writing in the Boston Globe, Meltsner wrote:

NEW RESOURCE: DPIC Resources Available as 30th Anniversary of Gregg v. Georgia Approaches

July 2, 2006 will mark the 30th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Gregg v. Georgia, an historic ruling that upheld newly crafted death penalty statutes and signaled the beginning of the modern era of capital punishment. This milestone presents the public with an opportunity to examine the application of the death penalty over the past three decades and to test whether the Court’s expectation of a fairer and less arbitrary system of capital punishment has been fulfilled.

NEW VOICES: Another Major Newspaper Calls for End to Capital Punishment

Reversing its long-standing support for capital punishment, the Spokane Spokesman-Review recently published an editorial calling for an end to capital punishment in the United States. The paper noted that the decision to change its stance on the death penalty came after careful consideration of growing evidence that the newspaper's "expectations of fairness and justice" are not being met and that the death penalty's "drawbacks now outweigh its merits." The editorial in full:

NEW VOICES: Illinois Execution in 1995 Now Seen in a New Light

Girvies Davis was executed in Illinois in 1995 after a conviction based largely on his own confession.  Davis' appellate attorney was David A. Schwartz, who now serves as senior vice-president and baseball legal counsel at CSMG Sports.  Schwartz writes in the Chicago Tribune that Davis "confessed" to many crimes, most of which he indisputably did not commit.  Davis said that the only reason he confessed to the murder that sent him to death row was that the police threatened to kill him if he did not sign the confession.  Schwartz, who was an attorney with Jenner & Block at the time he represented Davis, laments the fact that Davis' case had no DNA and that the times were different from those that led to the clearing of Illinois' death row by Gov. George Ryan in 2003:

Federal Judges Cite Arbitrariness in Stays and Executions Around Lethal Injection

martinFive federal judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit dissented from the Court's denial of a stay of execution to Sedley Alley in Tennessee. (Alley was subsequently granted a stay by the governor on other grounds.) Judge Boyce Martin, writing for the dissenting judges, noted that many inmates around the country were being granted stays of execution after filing challenges to the lethal injection process. Others raising the same claims have been denied stays and have been executed, despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case related to this issue (Hill v. McDonough).

Excerpts from Judge Martin's opinion follow: