Texas plans another legal lynching: Save the life of Ivan Cantu!

Houston

When speaking about prisons and the death penalty, many activists and leaders have said, “It’s better to be guilty and rich than to be innocent and poor.” Today in Texas, Ivan Cantu, a 50-year-old Latinx man, is the personification of this saying.

Ivan Cantu. Credit: Death Penalty Information Center

Cantu was sent to death row in 2001 for the Dallas murders of his cousin and his cousin’s fiancée. He was convicted in a bad parody of a so-called fair trial, defended by a court-appointed lawyer who never called a single witness for Cantu. He actually told the jury Cantu was guilty, surprising Cantu who then disrupted the court to ask the judge if he could fire the attorney and defend himself.

The judge denied the request.

The prosecutor hid evidence and used witnesses who lied. The false testimonies by the state’s star witnesses have been discredited, and one has now recanted his testimony.

Julian Castro, former mayor of San Antonio, and his brother Joaquin Castro, a member of Congress, wrote in a recent op-ed in the Dallas Morning News: “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.” (Feb. 22)

Cantu has a number of well-known supporters, including Sister Helen Prejean, author of “Dead Man Walking,” which was made into a movie starring Susan Sarandon. Prejean, Sarandon, actor Martin Sheen, Kim Kardashian and MoveOn.org have all encouraged Cantu’s supporters to sign their petition.

Prejean and Sheen held a press conference for Cantu on Feb. 12. Prejean explained: “Our goal is for Collin County to utilize the resources available within their department and take a look at the case. The Collin County District Attorney’s Office has an Integrity Unit within its department. I want that department to honor the new facts in this case instead of putting him to death.”

Ten days later on Feb. 22, boxes containing over 100,000 signed petitions were delivered to the Collin County DA while Prejean held a press conference outside of the courthouse. The speakers presented factual information proving Cantu’s innocence. Others gave persuasive and emotional talks, including Cantu’s mother, Sylvia Cantu, and Nikki Pratt, a childhood friend of Cantu’s.

Jurors support a new trial 

Three of the jurors in Cantu’s trial now believe he should get a new trial. One was Jeff Calhoun, the foreperson of the jury that sent Cantu to death row.  Calhoun spoke at the press conference on Feb/22. saying that he’d like to see Cantu get a new trial: “I believe that due process should be conclusive, but there’s mistakes, And I’m afraid this is one of those, and I really regret that it was the one that I was involved in. But I’m convinced that there’s some holes in this.”

Amnesty International issued this statement: “A recent independent investigation conducted has compounded questions about the adequacy of his [Cantu’s] legal representation at trial and raised doubts about the testimony of the state’s key witness and the physical evidence that appeared to collaborate her testimony. 

“International safeguards prohibit the imposition of the death penalty on anyone whose conviction is not based on clear and convincing evidence, leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts.”

Members of Cantu’s family attended the press conference, including several cousins, to support not only him but his mother. A student activist majoring in Human Rights at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Miranda Uribe, also spoke. And a teacher from a small town near McKinney brought a group of her high school students, all women of color, who were shocked with the information this reporter gave them about the intrinsic racism embedded in the system of capital punishment.

Along with dozens of media representatives from around Texas, the BBC, CNN and CNN en Español had crews of several reporters and camera personnel.

The Death Penalty Information Center is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to serve the media, policymakers and the general public with data and analysis on issues concerning capital punishment and the people it affects.

According to the DPIC, 1,583 people have been executed in the U.S. since 1976, and 196 people incarcerated on death row have been exonerated to date because they were innocent.

The Center reports, “It is now broadly accepted that the judicial review provided to death-penalty cases in the United States has been inadequate to prevent the execution of at least some prisoners who were wrongly convicted and sentenced to death.” 

The Center then listed 20 people who were executed but had cases with strong evidence of innocence. Ten of those 20 people were executed in Texas!

Stop the execution!

On Feb. 28, Texas plans to execute Ivan Cantu, whose name will likely be added to this list.

The Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement attended the press conference on Feb. 22 and distributed a flier demanding that Cantu be given an immediate stay of execution and a new trial. It read: “One doesn’t have to be an attorney to understand that this case must be re-examined. The Collin County DA has a Conviction Integrity Unit, and they must grant a stay of execution and review this case ASAP!”

The Abolition Movement will be in Huntsville outside of the death house on Wednesday, Feb. 28, if there is no stay of execution, loudly protesting this racist injustice. They hope to prevent Cantu from being Texas’s 587th victim of a legal lynching.

Gloria Rubac

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Gloria Rubac

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