Texas Editorials Call for Independent Investigation of Possible Wrongful Execution

Two of Texas's main newspapers have called for an independent investigation into the case of Ruben Cantu, who was executed in Texas in 1993.  New evidence revealed in the Houston Chronicle earlier in the year has thrown considerable doubt on the guilt of Cantu.  Susan Reed, the District Attorney of Bexar County where Cantu was tried, has refused to step down as head of the county's investigation, even though, as a judge, she signed Cantu's death warrant, an apparent conflict of interest.  The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals refused to require her to recuse herself.

The Houston Chronicle wrote:

 Mistrust:  Court's decision to leave a wrongful execution inquiry with a tainted DA clouds Texas justice

In order to determine whether the state might have executed an innocent man, Texas needs a clear-eyed, objective investigation into the circumstances surrounding the conviction and capital punishment of Ruben Cantu in 1993.

When Texas' highest court for criminal matters declined to halt the tainted, conflict-burdened investigation, it provided only more uncertainty.

The facts in the Cantu case are troubling. Convicted of a 1984 robbery in which one victim was killed and the other wounded, Cantu's execution is clouded by three witnesses' recent claims of Cantu's innocence. One witness is the surviving shooting victim.

The integrity of the criminal justice system depends on a thorough vetting of the evidence, old and new, to determine the truth of those disturbing claims. What's more unsettling, this investigation is being undertaken by the woman who, as a state district judge, reviewed one of Cantu's appeals and signed his death warrant. The court's decision, predictably supportive of the prosecution regardless of the facts, allows Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed to roll forward with an investigation that is tainted by her clear conflict of interest.

Concern for the validity of the investigation grew with the revelation that 2 of Reed's top investigators were recorded on a public police phone line calling Cantu's convicted co-defendant, David Garza, a bastard and declaring that all the witnesses, who include Garza, were lying. That recording prompted Garza's attorney to ask the Court of Criminal Appeals to remove Reed from the inquiry in favor of an independent special prosecutor.

In refusing the lawyer's appeal, the court disregarded a letter submitted to the court and signed by 22 legal scholars calling for an independent inquiry. And the judges left the impression that a clouded investigation into even credible allegations of a wrongful execution is good enough for Texas justice. The judges issued no written opinion.

The situation is made worse by other Texas death penalty cases crying out for review. A "statement of concern" by the heads of 7 justice advocacy organizations points out that the state has executed 2 other men under murky circumstances, Cameron Todd Willingham (based on arson evidence now thought to be unreliable) and Carlos De Luna (possibly because of mistaken identity).

The statement calls on the Legislature to fund the Texas Forensic Science Commission to review the Willingham case and others that raise similar questions of forensic science. It also calls on lawmakers to establish an Innocence Commission to "conduct fair and independent investigations in cases where plausible claims are raised that Texas executed an innocent person."

If Cantu was guilty of killing a man, as the San Antonio district attorney's office confidently claims, it shouldn't bother the lead prosecutor to have an investigator without ties to the case giving it a comprehensive review. Stubbornly refusing to give up the case only underscores Susan Reed's conflict of interest. Her investigation can't promise that, at the end of the investigation, justice will have been done.

(Editorial, Houston Chronicle, Sept. 5, 2006).

The Dallas Morning News wrote:

 Hits and Misses:  Blessing a death case sham

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals could have struck a blow for justice this week in a smarmy death case. Instead, the state's highest criminal court sat on its hands, essentially blessing Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed's investigation of her own office. Worse, in her previous job as a judge, she personally set the execution date for the man in question, Ruben Cantu. He was put to death in 1993 for a robbery-murder that has come into question because of witnesses' changed accounts. Is a disinterested inquiry really too much to ask for?

(Editorial, Dallas Morning News, Sept. 2, 2006).  See also Innocence.