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Innocent & Executed: It Could Have Been Me

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Texas executed an innocent man in 1989. That is the stunning conclusion of "Los Tocayos Carlos," a groundbreaking article published Monday in The Columbia Human Rights Law Review. As "Los Tocayos Carlos" meticulously documents, Carlos DeLuna was wrongfully convicted and executed for a crime he did not commit.

The news shook me to my core. It could have been me.

I was wrongfully convicted when I was 16 years old and served 20 years in prison before proving my innocence. That mistake took two decades from me, but it took Carlos DeLuna's life.

As I've read about the tragic story of Carlos' death, I'm struck by the parallels between our two lives. Carlos and I could have been brothers -- we come from similar backgrounds and we were both caught up in a criminal justice system that seemed stacked against us as poor young men. But the similarities go deeper.

We were both victims of mistaken identity. Carlos was identified by a single, uncorroborated witness who saw the suspect at night; my identification came by an error-filled photo line-up. In both of our cases, there was no forensic evidence to back up the witnesses.

Also disturbingly familiar was Carlos' struggle to prove his innocence. Both of us spent every day of our lives after our convictions trying to prove that we were innocent, and neither of us could do it alone. Proving that I was not a killer took 20 years and a team of dedicated lawyers, professors, and nonprofit organizations. Without them, I would still be in prison today. Proof of Carlos' innocence has only come out now, 29 years after the crime and two decades after he was executed, because of the painstaking work of professors and students at The Columbia Human Rights Law Review.

Most chilling, though, is the stark difference. My innocence was proven in time. Carlos DeLuna's was not.

Doubts always existed in Carlos' case, but it took 29 years and what some are calling the most comprehensive criminal investigation in U.S. history to produce this report and finally bring justice to Carlos DeLuna's name. More than two decades too late -- it only took 6 years for the courts to deny his appeals and execute him.

Since proving my innocence, I've spent my time with family and friends and each moment has been so full of joy. I am a student at Loyola Marymount University and I work as an advocate for the SAFE California Act to replace the death penalty in California.

Now I can't help thinking about Carlos DeLuna's family and friends. How can they ever have justice knowing that someone they loved was executed for a crime he did not commit? I think about the joys of freedom and vindication that he was never able to feel, and the accomplishments he was never able to achieve.

Every wrongful conviction is a tragedy, but the death penalty makes that tragedy irreversible. I am living proof that cases like Carlos DeLuna's are not isolated, they are the inevitable result of an imperfect system. As long as we have a death penalty, we risk executing innocent people like Carlos DeLuna. Please join me in the effort to replace California's death penalty.

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