February 22, 2024

DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Ivan Cantu’s upcoming death sentence in Texas is a test of our collective humanity

Opinion Piece by Joaquin Castro and Julián Castro

Published on February 22, 2024.

According to the state of Texas, Ivan Cantu will be dead by Wednesday, Feb. 28. Yet the questions surrounding his guilt in a 2000 double homicide are still very much alive.

In 2001, Cantu was sent to death row for the Dallas murders of his cousin and his cousin’s fiancée. Over the last 23 years, the now-50-year-old Cantu has consistently maintained his innocence and argued that he was framed. Before taking another life, Texas should make sure his claims are fully investigated.

Consider the facts: Multiple claims made by a witness that were key to his conviction have since been disproven. Jurors from his trial have publicly expressed support for his appeal.

Cantu’s fingerprints were not found on the murder weapon — only on a magazine that could easily have been inserted later. Phone records obtained by Cantu’s legal team show that someone placed a call from inside his apartment while he was out of town, which his lawyers argue should raise serious concerns about the ease with which someone could have planted bloody clothes that were found in his home. One of the other key witnesses recently recanted his testimony and admitted to prosecutors that he “was on drugs when he spoke to police and while he was at trial, and what he said wasn’t true,” according to The Texas Tribune.

When considering these findings, how could anyone who claims to uphold a fair and just legal system not recognize the need to reflect upon new evidence?

Instead, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals rejected a request for review from Cantu’s legal team with no explanation. With Cantu’s execution approaching, Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis has so far refused to request a motion to withdraw the execution date so that the new evidence can be admitted and considered.

According to the Equal Justice Initiative, someone on death row is exonerated for every eight people executed. Nearly 200 death-row prisoners have had their convictions overturned and been exonerated since 1973. Likely many more innocent people are sitting on death row.

Whether you support capital punishment or not, the right to due process and a fair trial are principles we should all believe in. But a justice system that takes someone’s life without considering new evidence or faulty testimony that led to their conviction isn’t just at all. We know a system built and maintained by human beings is subject to the limits of our imperfections. For that reason, we must examine every case with the gravity that capital cases demand.

The developments in Ivan Cantu’s case have urgently called into question the burden of proof that he is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If the legal system refuses to consider recanted testimony, new evidence, a potential alibi and the misgivings of multiple jurors on the case, Texas could execute an innocent man. Cantu’s case must be reopened for review.

Julián Castro is a lawyer who served as the mayor of San Antonio and as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) from 2014 to 2017. Joaquin Castro is a lawyer who currently serves as the U.S. representative for Texas’ 20th Congressional District.

Source: Dallas Morning News