Sunday, March 1, 2009




Ruben Cantu sadly belongs on the list of Texans whose cases cry out innocence who were executed by the State of Texas which has all to often claimed infallibility. Startling developments in the case - including doubts on the verdict and death sentence which have been expressed by the surviving victim, the co-defendent, the district attorney, and the jury forewoman;

The Wikipedia entry runs as follows:

Ruben Montoya Cantu (December 5, 1966 – August 24, 1993) was a Texan who was executed for murder. During the years following the conviction, the surviving victim, the co-defendant, the District Attorney, and the jury forewoman have all made public statements that cast doubt on Cantu's guilty verdict and on the death sentence.

Ruben Cantu grew up with his mother and father, until the age of 14, when the couple split up, with Ruben's mother moving 20 miles (30 km) away, and Ruben and his father continuing to live in a trailer in a crime-ridden south San Antonio barrio. The neighborhood was home to a loose band of tough kids called the Grey Eagles, of which Cantu became a leader, despite being rather small and in special-ed classes at school. By age 15, he was stealing cars for an organized auto theft ring, often spending days at a time driving stolen cars to Mexico for cash. At a time when the San Antonio Police Department was embroiled in scandal, with vigilantes and drug-dealing officers well known to the community, Cantu was stealing cars and dodging the police. His older brother had been arrested on drug and theft charges, but despite several run-ins with the police, Ruben was never convicted of anything before the November 1984 crime that led to his execution.

Convicted of armed robbery and murder:
(Note that Juan Moreno, the surviving victim of the attack, is not the former Texas Rangers Major League baseball player of the same name.)

The prosecution's case at the trial that convicted Ruben Cantu is summarized as follows: On the night of November 8, 1984, at approximately 11:30 p.m., Ruben Cantu (age 17 at the time) and his friend David Garza (15), broke into a vacant San Antonio house under construction at 605 Briggs Street, and robbed two Hispanic males at gunpoint. The two victims, Pedro Gomez (25) and Juan Moreno (19), had been workmen sleeping on floor mattresses at a construction site, guarding against burglary, as a water heater had been recently stolen from the work site. The two victims were sleeping in their work clothes, with their pockets full of their cash earnings at the time of the robbery. Cantu and Garza were carrying a rifle, which they used to rob the two men of their wristwatches. As they tried to take their cash, they were interrupted by Gomez's attempt to retrieve a pistol hidden under his mattress. Gomez was shot at least nine times by the boys' rifle, dying instantly, and Moreno was also shot as many as nine times by the same rifle. Thinking they had killed both men, the two teens then fled the scene. Juan Moreno survived the attack, and was able to leave the house and call for help shortly after the event, though he lost one lung, one kidney, and part of his stomach.

Juan Moreno was the key eyewitness in the trial, eventually identifying Ruben Cantu as the killer in court, only to recant his story a decade after Cantu was executed.[1]

On the basis of no physical evidence, no confession, and only Moreno's subsequently recanted testimony, Ruben Cantu was convicted by a jury of first degree murder. Shortly after his conviction and sentencing, Cantu wrote the following note to the people of San Antonio: "My name is Ruben M. Cantu and I am only 18 years old. I got to the 9th grade and I have been framed in a capital murder case."

Executed by the state of Texas;
On August 24, 1993, at 22 minutes after midnight, Ruben Cantu at the age of 26, died by lethal injection, becoming the fifth juvenile offender to be executed by Texas. His final request was for a piece of bubble gum, which was denied. Asked if he had a last statement, he said,"No, sir."

Police allegedly pressure a witness after a bar fight;
According to Juan Moreno, and consistent with police records, he was visited by police in the hospital the day after the shooting. But, due to the severity his wounds, he was unable to speak and could barely move. Five days later, in a second interview, Moreno was shown a number of photos. Cantu's photo was not included and Moreno did not identify any of the people shown in the photos. On December 16, detectives visited Moreno a third time and showed him another array of five photos, including one of Ruben Cantu, who lived across the street from Moreno's job site where the crime occurred. He did not identify Ruben or anyone else from the photos shown to him during that police interview.

The case went cold, and no suspect was arrested. About four months after the robbery-murder, there was an unrelated evening incident at the Scabaroo Lounge, a bar near Cantu's home. Officer Joe De La Luz, an off-duty, plainclothes police officer carrying two concealed weapons, claimed to have been shot by Cantu in an unprovoked incident at that bar. According to the account given by Cantu and corroborated by others at the scene, a dispute arose over a game of pool, De La Luz threatened Cantu, flashed a pistol, and did not identify himself as a police officer. Cantu, who was also armed, shot De La Luz. Officer De La Luz survived the shooting.

His friend, Sgt. Bill Ewell, re-opened the Gomez homicide case on the day of that bar shooting. On the following day, Sgt. Ewell sent an investigator to Juan Moreno a fourth time, this time showing Cantu's photo along with four others. Again, Juan Moreno did not identify Cantu as one of his attackers. But he did provide Cantu's name. One day later, a third homicide detective picked up Moreno (an undocumented immigrant from Mexico at the time), drove him to the police station, sat him down and showed him the same group of photos that included Cantu. On that final attempt, Moreno positively identified the photo of Cantu as being one of his attackers.

Juan Moreno now says that he had felt pressure from the police to finger Cantu. He says he knew at the time that the police were determined to charge Cantu with the robbery-homicide, and that Cantu had been involved in shooting a police officer. But Moreno says now that he did the wrong thing in falsely identifying Ruben Cantu as the shooter in his case, and that the person who shot him looked nothing like Ruben Cantu.

David Garza, Cantu's codefendant, has since admitted involvement in the burglary, assault and murder. He says he did go inside the house with another boy, did participate in the robbery, and saw the murder take place, but that his accomplice was not Ruben Cantu. He has given the name of his accomplice to Lise Olsen, reporter for the Houston Chronicle, who claims to have spoken with the named person and believes he has intimate knowledge of the crime. The Houston Chronicle has made an editorial decision not to publish the name of that person because he has not admitted involvement, and has not yet been charged in connection with the crime. It is unclear whether the Houston Chronicle has provided the name of the alleged murderer to the police.

Recent developments;
Sam Millsap, who was the District Attorney presiding over the Cantu case, proclaimed himself a "lifelong supporter of the death penalty" in his commentary published in the San Antonio Express-News in the year 2000. In a December 2005 interview with the Express-News, Millsap expressed a newfound opposition to capital punishment. In that 2005 story, Millsap, an attorney in private practice at the time of the interview, says his decision to oppose the death penalty was affirmed, as evidence surfaced that Ruben Cantu was very likely innocent, when prosecuted by Millsap's office, and ultimately executed by the state of Texas. According to the 2005 Express-News story, "'It is troubling to me personally. No decision is more frightening than seeking the death penalty. We owe ourselves certainty on it.' He had that degree of certainty in the 1980s when he was the district attorney, 'when I was in my 30s and knew everything.' Now, he says, 'There is no way to have that kind of certainty.'" He went on to say that if Cantu was innocent, that means the person who committed the murder remains free and that "the misconduct by police officers could be addressed today."[2]

The current Bexar County (San Antonio) District Attorney, Susan Reed, has indicated to Rick Casey of the Houston Chronicle that she may bring charges against Juan Moreno, the surviving victim in the robbery-shooting, and not against the detectives who allegedly coerced his testimony. In addition, the Houston Chronicle has uncovered evidence that Reed's office may be conducting a bad-faith investigation, prejudiced to support the original conviction of Cantu. Susan Reed was the judge who rejected Cantu's appeal in 1988, and also set his execution date in 1993. As the current Bexar County DA, Reed assigned two investigators, Mike Beers and James Moore, to the case of Ruben Cantu. During the investigation, the two investigators were recorded in a phone conversation ridiculing the case and openly mocking the notion that Cantu might have been innocent. (NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund summary of the series of Houston Chronicle stories on the issue.)

Juan Moreno, now a building contractor living in east San Antonio with a teenage child of his own, may face homicide charges brought by Susan Reed. Since Moreno's testimony was essentially the only evidence against Cantu, and the implied threats by the police did not technically violate the law, his story of police misconduct has exposed him to the possibility of prosecution for murder by perjury [3]

Cantu "shot an officer who worked with me. It was difficult to get [the witness] to make the identification. We weren't able to get him for the police shooting, but we were able to get him for the murder." — Sgt. Bill Ewell (now retired), who headed the investigation against Cantu. The case against Cantu for the barroom shooting had to be dropped, because police had tainted evidence and illegally searched Cantu's home, rendering the case unprosecutable.

"We did the best we could with the information we had, but with a little extra work, a little extra effort, maybe we'd have gotten the right information. The bottom line is, an innocent person was put to death for it. We all have our finger in that." — Miriam Ward, forewoman of the jury that convicted Cantu.

"It's so questionable. There are so many places where it could break down. We have a system that permits people to be convicted based on evidence that could be wrong because it's mistaken or because it's corrupt." — Sam Millsap Jr., the former district attorney who made the decision to charge Cantu with capital murder. He also indicated he never should have sought the death penalty in a case based on the testimony of an eyewitness who identified Cantu only after police officers showed him Cantu's photo three separate times.