Wednesday, March 22, 2006

A call for a special prosecutor

Last November, the Houston Chronicled published an investigative series that, in our view, was good enough to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. The series strongly suggested that the state of Texas executed an innocent person -- in this case, Ruben Cantu, who was put to death in 1993. Today, the conservative Dallas Morning News asks why the investigation into Cantu's death seems to be dragging:

Clear Answers Needed: Death case calls for outside

The Bexar County district attorney's office has taken on the job of finding
out if it mistakenly sent alleged teen killer Ruben Cantu to the death chamber
in 1993 solely on the basis of eyewitness identification.

With due respect to otherwise competent legal professionals, it's a job the
district attorney's office isn't likely to complete in convincing fashion.

Since beginning its inquiry nearly four months ago, the office has been
unable to secure full interviews from two crucial witnesses, according to The Houston Chronicle, whose reporting on the case spurred the

One of the 2, the sole eyewitness who now recants his testimony, has
clammed up after the district attorney threatened a "murder by

The district attorney herself, Susan Reed, is a former judge who denied an
appeal in the Cantu case and set his execution date.

At issue is justice for a slain construction worker, Pedro Gomez, who was
shot to death by a robber while sleeping overnight at a building site. A second
worker was badly wounded in the attack but survived to become the trial's star
witness. Then an illegal alien, the survivor now says he was under police
pressure to finger Mr. Cantu, a neighborhood tough.

A "murder by perjury" charge may technically be an option, but citing the
possibility has created a witness-intimidation appearance that clouds theoutcome
of the investigation.

The Cantu case joins a growing list of eyewitness-only convictions brought
into question nationwide, mostly because DNA evidence has contradicted the
eye-witness acounts. The governor's own Criminal Justice Advisory Council
recommended in January that the state take advantage of growing research into
witness misidentification.

That won't help the cause of justice in the Cantu case, which could turn
out to be the state's first officially acknowledged death penalty error.

What could help the cause of justice here is a decision by the district
attorney to call in an outside special prosecutor with no past connection with
the case. The public deserves clean, clear answers to questions over imposing
the ultimate penalty.

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