The Austin Chronicle

State May Have Executed Innocent Man

By Jordan Smith, December 9, 2005, News

After years of official reassurances that Texas' capital punishment system is, well, infallible (including more than one such condescending assurance from former Gov. George W. Bush), new evidence in an old death case suggests that the state has executed at least one innocent man.

An investigation by the Houston Chronicle suggests that Ruben Cantu, who was executed in 1993, may in fact have been innocent. Cantu, who at 17 was sentenced to die for a 1984 robbery and shooting murder in San Antonio, steadfastly maintained his innocence in the slaying of Pedro Gomez, but was convicted based on the testimony of an alleged accomplice, then 15-year-old David Garza, and on the eyewitness testimony of Juan Moreno, who was with Gomez the night he was killed and barely survived the shooting. Moreno now says he was pressured by police to identify Cantu as the shooter, and Garza says it was another local teen with him the night of the killing, not Cantu. According to the Houston daily, Garza pled guilty to robbery in exchange for the state dropping a murder charge, but says he never told police that Cantu was his accomplice. Amazingly, Garza was never compelled to testify at Cantu's trial. The daily also reports that a third witness, Eloy Gonzales, who, like Garza, never testified at Cantu's trial, says that he and his brothers were actually with Cantu in Waco on the day of the Gomez murder.

In the wake of the recent revelations, Bexar Co. District Attorney Susan Reed (a former district judge who in the late Eighties denied one of Cantu's appeals) says her office will reopen and review the Cantu case. Still, state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, says the enormity of the situation cries out for an additional, state-led investigation. "There ought to be an independent review in addition to the fine work coming out of [Reed's] office," he told the Houston Chronicle. "The public has a right to know if the state of Texas has made a mistake in the administration of the death penalty."

Kathy Walt, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry, seemed less than impressed with the recent revelations – the recanted testimonies are hardly "unique," she said. "We've had these kinds of confessions before in other death-penalty cases," she told the daily. "It's happened before."

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