The death penalty is wrong for one basic reason: It takes the life of another.
Even if that person committed the murder for which he was convicted and condemned, each execution will always say more about the society that carries it out — and what it says, is not pretty — than the person who dies.
But what if that condemned person is innocent?
What price do we pay for that?
And where do we then find justice?
Those are questions death penalty supporters should ask themselves after reading the first part of a new Chicago Tribune series.
The newspaper reports that new evidence suggests Carlos De Luna, who was executed in Texas for stabbing a gas station clerk six years earlier in Corpus Christi, was the victim of mistaken identity.
For many years, few questioned whether Carlos De Luna deserved to die.
His execution closed the book on the fatal stabbing of Wanda Lopez, a single mother and gas station clerk whose final, desperate screams were captured on a 911 tape.
Arrested just blocks from the bloody crime scene, De Luna was swiftly convicted and sentenced to death--even though the parolee proclaimed his innocence and identified another man as the killer.
But 16 years after De Luna died by lethal injection, the Tribune has uncovered evidence strongly suggesting that the acquaintance he named, Carlos Hernandez, was the one who killed Lopez in 1983.
Ending years of silence, Hernandez's relatives and friends recounted how the violent felon repeatedly bragged that De Luna went to Death Row for a murder Hernandez committed.
The newspaper investigation, involving interviews with dozens of people and a review of thousands of pages of court records, shows the case was compromised by shaky eyewitness identification, sloppy police work and a failure to thoroughly pursue Hernandez as a possible suspect.
These revelations, which cast significant doubt over De Luna's conviction, were never heard by the jury.
His case represents one of the most compelling examples yet of the discovery of possible innocence after a prisoner's execution.
Presented with the results of the newspaper's inquiry, De Luna's prosecutors still believe they convicted the right man. But the lead prosecutor acknowledged he is troubled by some of the new information. And a former police detective told the Tribune that he got tips about Hernandez shortly after the crime and now believes the wrong man was executed.
Missing from this case is DNA or some other kind of evidence that could provide conclusive proof of De Luna's guilt or innocence. The store wasn't equipped with a security camera that could have captured images of the killer.
The newspaper learned of De Luna from a Columbia University law professor who had begun to dig up evidence that pointed to Hernandez, who died in 1999.
The possibility of De Luna's innocence played no role in his final appeal, which focused on his lawyers' failure to present any mitigating evidence at his sentencing.
When that failed, and when Texas' governor declined to grant him clemency, De Luna, 27, quietly accepted his fate a few minutes after midnight on Dec. 7, 1989. He thanked the warden for being treated well by the guards and prayed on his knees with the death-house chaplain.
Strapped onto the gurney, chemicals flowing into his veins, De Luna didn't close his eyes. After 15 seconds, he jerked his head up and apparently tried to speak.
Ten more seconds passed. De Luna raised his head again and stared into the chaplain's eyes. De Luna tried again to speak but failed and soon lost consciousness.
The moment was seared into the chaplain's memory. What, he still wonders, was De Luna trying to say?