Book Review by Sapphire Ng
The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy of a Wrongful Execution
by James S. Liebman, Shawn Crowley, Andrew Markquart, Lauren Rosenberg, Lauren White, Daniel Zharkovsky
Columbia University Press
Copyright July 2014
Paperback, 448 Pages
Exceptionally tragic and heart-wrenching. This book comprehensively documents an extremely maddening and painful case of injustice as facilitated by a flawed criminal justice system. This progressively disheartening narrative culminates in the botched and wrongful execution of Carlos DeLuna.
This is a compelling book for readers from all walks of life, within or outside the American criminal justice system. Well-researched and easy-to-read, this book illustrates and expounds upon a very real and consequential problem in the criminal justice system. It is almost unimaginable that a reader could finish reading this book without experiencing an intense mix of anger, frustration and disappointment at the cruel injustice served to an innocent man.
This book provides an excellent and rather thorough examination of mishandled elements in the case that in aggregate led to DeLuna’s wrongful conviction and execution. By skillfully bringing DeLuna to life within the pages of the book by highlighting his vulnerability, fears, flaws, thoughts, and innocence, as juxtaposed alongside the excruciating incompetence and apathy of supposed professionals who wield tremendous powers over DeLuna’s life and fate, this book furnishes one of the most disturbing and devastating exemplification of the ways justice can go wrong.
The book aptly provides a comprehensive background to the case by providing a frightful and heart-thumping recount of the brutal killing of Wanda Lopez, and detailed the life histories and psychological profiles of both Carlos DeLuna and Carlos Hernandez. Whilst DeLuna should not be excused for his prior run-ins with the law, “jail stints,” “constant stealing, lying, and huffing paint,” it is certainly unjustifiable that he became the scapegoat for a murder Hernandez committed. Hernandez, a “dangerous” man of a violent demeanor with a violent criminal history, a “history of knife crimes,” an established criminal modus operandi, and a penchant to commit acts of domestic violence and abuse.
It is especially infuriating to learn of the various aggravating parties involved in DeLuna’s capital murder case, especially the painful incompetence of both DeLuna’s defense counsel and the on-scene investigative team of Lopez’s killing. It is beyond exasperating to read of the ways DeLuna’s defense demonstrated glaring inexperience with their disastrous in-court performances, lack of preparation, and unwise decisions, and who in the latter sentencing stage of the trial literally resorted to a strategy of inaction and surrender—failure to engage in even minimal cross-examination of witnesses, and “didn’t call a single witness or put on any mitigating evidence”—which in aggregate effectively sealed DeLuna’s hapless fate. The ineptitude and faults of the crime investigator was also laid bare—her amateurish and slipshod investigative work, faulty judgements, laughable careless oversight, and even irresponsible claims of ignorance and lack of knowledge.
It is almost disgusting to learn of the extent the prosecution, in conjunction with law enforcement, were willing to go in order to convict and put to death a man to whom there is a dearth of implicating evidence. Highlighted was the familiar mantra “ends justify the means” to which the prosecution was alleged to follow. The book systematically documented efforts where the prosecution intentionally hid and conveniently ignored evidence not in service to its self-serving cause, and where it habitually allowed its short-sightedness and stubbornness to lead its efforts.
The lack of professionalism on the part of law enforcement is also extremely regrettable—the false confidence and lack of fact-checking in the arrest of the suspect, the professionally-unsound decision to use the error-prone procedure of “show-up identification,” the reluctance to admit mistakes, and other missteps. With more findings related to the case that came to light, the more it makes the reader question the efficacy of the law enforcement and justice system. The fact that Hernandez was able to get away unscathed and publicly brag about the failure of the law to prosecute him for his cold-blooded murders despite the availability of evidence against him is an appalling testament to the state of the criminal justice system.
Amidst such turmoil, DeLuna’s sentiments of acceptance, peace and forgiveness were thus even more admirable. Far from harboring hatred or resentment, he even “tried to find some justice in his situation and found it in the bad things he’d done,” by justifying his conviction and impending execution for a murder he did not commit as nonetheless absolving him from his past guilts and wrongdoings. Considering that DeLuna might even be possibly mentally retarded, his resilience and optimism as perfectly captured in his last words before his execution—“I want to say I hold no grudges. I hate no one. I love my family. Tell everyone on death row to keep the faith and don’t give up”—appear all the more astounding.
This book might have seemed repetitive at times with regards to critical details and evidence neglected or botched in the case. Considering however the gravity of the case at hand, and the atrocious incompetence displayed by the various parties involved in the case, such repetition would almost seem mandatory in order to impress upon the insufferable injustice inflicted upon DeLuna, and to right an abominable wrong.
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated to the publisher nor the author of the book. This book review is the result of my personal reading and honest opinion.