What People Are Saying

Reviews of The Wrong Carlos

“This book is distinctive in its sheer comprehensiveness of investigation and presentation. It will be an instant classic in criminology.”

— Jordan Steiker, University of Texas at Austin

 
“Given the quality of the work and the importance of the subject, this book will become a classic in the field. It is as good a book about the death penalty as I have ever read.”

— Austin Sarat, Amherst College

 
“A masterful deconstruction of the Lopez murder and police investigation followed by the prosecution and execution of the wrong man. Given the number of men already exonerated from death row and the unacceptable incidence of innocent men convicted of capital crimes, there can be no doubt that innocent men have been executed by the state. Liebman’s command of the facts and intellectual precision, ultimately infused with a moral urgency, makes a compelling claim that Carlos DeLuna is one of those innocent men.”

— Peter J. Neufeld and Barry Scheck, directors, Innocence Project

 
“In 1989, Texas executed Carlos DeLuna, a poor Hispanic man with childlike intelligence, for the murder a convenience store clerk. His execution passed unnoticed for years until a team of Columbia Law School faculty and students chose to investigate his case. They found that DeLuna almost certainly was innocent—and that another man named Carlos, who was well known to the police and prosecutors, committed the murder.” Read more here.

— Leonard Lopate, The Leonard Lopate Show, WNYC. 

 
“Liebman and his coauthors tell an important story of alleged wrongful execution. The story of Carlos DeLuna highlights several important yet often overlooked problems plaguing our criminal justice system, ranging from the pitfalls of eyewitness identification to the disadvantages of the restrictions of habeas corpus.”

— Meghan Ryan, Southern Methodist University School of Law

 
“Outside the rarified group of highly publicized exonerations . . ., errors may be so mundane that no one notices them unless an outsider plucks a case from darkness and holds it to the light. That is what happened in the Carlos DeLuna case, which drew no attention at the time and remained in near-total obscurity until Professor James Liebman and a team of five law students painstakingly dissected the case.

[The Wrong Carlos] is so detailed and exhaustive in its search for what went wrong that readers can misapprehend that there was something inevitable about his ultimate execution. Yet what makes the story so powerful and troubling is that readers are reminded each step of the way how little evidence there ever was of his guilt and how contingent the rush to judgment was that led to [DeLuna’s] execution.

[This book brings] daylight and understanding to the reasons why our criminal justice system so often makes terrible mistakes. [It provides] powerful resources for lawyers and reformers trying to improve our criminal justice system [and also] something quite rare: a clearer understanding of what went wrong.”

— Brandon Garrett, Michigan Law Review, 2014

 
“Columbia University law professor Liebman and five now-graduated students of the Columbia Law School stumbled upon an atrociously handled capital murder case in which a young Hispanic man, Carlos DeLuna, was wrongfully convicted for the murder of Wanda Lopez. The Carlos DeLuna project expands on the “abject failure of the Texas criminal justice system” in this infuriating yet engrossing book on wrongful conviction. Convenience store clerk Wanda Lopez was warned of a man carrying a knife loitering near her store. She called the police—once to tell them of the man, and a second time when he was already in the store. Recorded on that second phone call are her last words. Nearby, DeLuna is found hiding under a truck, and what follows is both tragic and shocking. Liebman details the police and courtroom procedures after DeLuna’s arrest and describes how police incompetence, corrupt and inefficient lawyers, and sheer bad luck place the wrong man in jail, letting the true murderer, Carlos Hernandez, off the hook to commit more acts of violence. Liebman details the fallibility of eye-witness accounts alongside the injustice of death penalty sentencing, and the examples of racism, contempt for the poor, and police inaction mark this as an important critique of our legal system.” Read more here.

— Publisher’s Weekly, 2014 (Starred Review)

 
“A Columbia Law School professor and some of his students gather and present evidence establishing the innocence of Carlos DeLuna, executed for murder in Texas in 1989.

Legal scholar Liebman (co-author: Federal Habeas Corpus Practice and Procedure, 2001) begins (and ends) with Justice Antonin Scalia, who famously said in 2006 that there has not been a single case of wrongful execution. Perhaps this one will change his message? The author acquired the old transcripts, interviewed many of those involved, read the newspaper clippings and watched the TV news coverage—in general, he and his team behaved as the authorities in Corpus Christi should have but manifestly didn’t. In 1983, DeLuna was accused of stabbing Wanda Lopez, a gas station clerk, and was apprehended less than an hour later. Intellectually damaged, DeLuna denied the crime from the beginning to the very moment of his execution. Liebman and the others discovered that there was another Carlos—Carlos Hernandez—who was patently guilty. He and DeLuna looked a lot alike, but the violent Hernandez, a career criminal who later died in prison, carried (and often used) a knife and later told more than one person that he had actually committed the murder. Liebman’s team went over the physical evidence thoroughly (there was none connecting DeLuna to the case) and tacitly and explicitly accuse the Corpus Christi authorities of a rush to judgment. The author offers numerous photographs, charts and other documents (some are from police reports and trial evidence), as well as a website that presents much more of it. The chapter about DeLuna’s execution is wrenching. Liebman concludes with thoughts about how something like this could happen—and what we need to do to prevent it from happening again.

Death penalty opponents now have a definitive example to cite; death penalty proponents have an agonizing case to consider.” Read more here.

— Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

 

“Liebman (Columbia Law Sch.) and his former students present the chilling results of the Columbia DeLuna Project, which sought to prove that Texas executed an innocent man in 1989. […] This is a postmortem investigation of a collection of travesties. According to the authors, the 1983 murder of Wanda Lopez, a convenience store clerk in Corpus Christi, TX, was committed by Carlos Hernandez, whom Carlos DeLuna, the executed man, knew. Using court records, extensive interviews with witnesses, and photographic evidence, the authors dissect DeLuna’s conviction, which was based on a single eyewitness and on DeLuna’s capture near the crime scene. The book attempts to refute the Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia’s 2006 claim that there has never been a wrongful U.S. execution. The exhaustively documented text presents the case in chronological order, from the crime to the execution, and at a minimum creates abundant reasonable doubt for the accused. The authors do not argue for the abolition of the death penalty but show that in one case the justice system completely failed. One question left unanswered is whether, 25 years later, death penalty prosecutions are any more thorough. VERDICT A masterpiece of its type and a disturbing true crime account, highly recommended for all nonfiction collections.” Read more here.

— Harry Charles, Library Journal

 

A book by Professor James Liebman of Columbia University Law School titled “The Wrong Carlos” describes the story of Carlos DeLuna, a Corpus Christi man who was executed for the murder of a convenience store clerk. The actual murderer was almost certainly Carlos Hernandez. The subtitle of Liebman’s book captures the story: “Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution.” Read more here.

— “Time to end death penalty in Texas”, Sam Millsap & Roger C. Barnes, My San Antonio

 
“A newly published book by Columbia Law School professor James S. Liebman and The Columbia DeLuna Project lays out the story not only of Lopez’s sadistic murder but of the injustice that likely led the state to strap an innocent man to a gurney and poison him to death.

The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution, shows how law enforcement officers botched the investigation of Lopez’s death from the first moments they walked into the crime scene.

Evidence that included shoe prints, a cigarette butt, a wad of chewing gum and clumps of hair were ignored or overlooked. Detectives trampled on the blood-covered crime scene before it was washed down and erased by 6 a.m. the morning after the murder. The primary detective on the case spent less than two hours at the scene and never saw it in the light of day, the book states.” Read more here.

— “Editorial: When the wrong man dies”, Dallas Morning News