Friday, August 04, 2006

Prosecutor, Recuse Thyself!

The conservative San Antonio Express-News joins the equally conservative Dallas Morning News, which has joined the moderate Houston Chronicle in urging an independent investigation into the conviction and execution of Ruben Cantu.

Regular readers of this blog know that late last year the Houston Chronicle published a two-part series in which it strongly suggested that Cantu was innocent of the crime for which he was convicted, sentenced to death and later executed.

Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed promptly announced she would look into the matter, which at the time seemed like a Good Thing. Since that announcement, however, she has dragged her feet, stonewalled at every opportunity and delayed things indefinitely. On top of that, conversations leaking out of her office indicate that it lacks the professionalism and objectivity needed to get things done right.

So. As the state's leading (conservative) newspapers have editorialized, it is time for District Attorney Reed to recuse herself. It is time for an independent investigation. It is time for truth to be known, even though it is too late for justice for Ruben Cantu.

For those of you who are interested in the fact that Texas has now executed not one, not two but three people who in all likelihood were innocent (and Missouri likely has executed a fourth), you can read more about the Cantu case at the bottom of this post -- I've included tons of links from the Express-News web site.

Editorial: Cantu case merits independent probe

San Antonio Express-News
Bexar County District Attorney Susan Reed made the right move when she opened an investigation into allegations that a San Antonio man may have been wrongfully executed.
However, she now needs to step away from the probe into the Ruben Cantu case and allow an independent investigator to take over.

Cantu was executed in 1993 for the Nov. 8, 1984, robbery and murder of Mexican-born contractor Pedro Gomez.

The case was reopened after three witnesses, including a key eyewitness, claimed firsthand knowledge of Cantu's innocence.

The increasing controversy sparked by the case leaves Reed in a no-win situation.

Those opposed to her handling the case note that she ruled on the Cantu appeal and set his execution date.

Technically, that is correct. She did rule on the appeal, but not in any way that changed the final outcome.

She had no choice but to set his execution date.

As the judge of the 144th District Court, Reed was required to set an execution date for Cantu. Judge Roy Barrera Jr. had tried the case in the 144th District Court. Reed inherited the case when she was elected to that bench.

The law determines the parameters on setting an execution date, leaving the judges who have jurisdiction over death penalty cases with little leeway.

A state district judge earlier this summer ruled he had no power to remove Reed from the investigation, but that does not prevent her from doing so voluntarily.

A final report on the current investigation is not expected until late fall. Regardless of the outcome, some people will be unhappy.

Reed's hard-nosed law enforcement attitude and determination not to walk away from a tough situation could hurt her politically in the long term.

That is not reason enough to voluntary relinquish the case, but new questions about her investigators are.

Recorded conversations between investigators from Reed's office and a former police officer involved in the case have raised questions about bias within her office. Her investigators belittled the claim that Cantu was wrongfully executed, the Express-News and Houston Chronicle reported in stories detailing the recordings.

Reed can erase questions about the objectivity of the probe by removing her office from the proceedings and asking an independent law enforcement agency to do it.

It's the right thing to do. The public must be confident that the investigation is conducted without preconceived notions about the result.

More links:
Recent coverage
Death and Doubt: Read the Houston Chronicle series on the conviction and execution of Ruben Cantu
07/25/2006: Tapes spur calls for DA to relinquish Cantu case
07/22/2006: Tapes hint minds are made up on Cantu
07/09/06: Cops' past further clouds questionable execution
06/10/06: DA stays in charge of execution probe
05/12/06: Civil rights group bares execution probe role
03/19/06: Politics swirls in death probe
12/13/05: Advocates say Texas needs innocence panel
12/01/05: DA considers charge as execution probed
Former DA Millsap now rejects capital punishment
Editorial: Clemency granted as doubts increase
Editorial: Execution in 1993 raises serious issues


PersianCowboy said...
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PersianCowboy said...

I didn't know Express News is a conservative paper. Interesting!

If thats the case, then Austin American Statesman is probably a liberal paper.

Anonymous said...

The SA Express-News is clearly not conservative. The DMN was conservative in the past, but it has been increasingly moderate over the last ten years. Of these papers, The Houston Chronicle is probably the most conservative, although not nearly as conservative as either it or the DMN was in the 1980s.