Texas Executes Man After 2 Decades Of Innocence Claims On Death Row

Discrepancies in a key testimony, a recanted testimony and apprehension from two jurors had cast doubt on Ivan Cantu's conviction.

A 50-year-old man on Texas’ death row who has maintained his innocence for more than two decades was executed on Wednesday, according to multiple reports.

Ivan Cantu, who was convicted and sentenced to death by a jury in the 2000 killing of his cousin and the cousin’s fiancée, was killed by lethal injection at 6:47 p.m. local time, according to CNN. He repeatedly stated his innocence in his final words.

“I don’t think that this situation here will bring you closure, if it does. If this is what it takes or have any reservations off in your mind, then so be it,” Cantu said.

Discrepancies in a key piece of testimony, the recanting of other testimony and apprehension from two jurors have cast doubt on his conviction.

“From the first day — everything was there to investigate the case and prove my innocence. But when I explained it, they didn’t believe me,” Cantu said in an interview with Noticias Telemundo, according to NBC News earlier this month. Both news outlets are owned by NBCUniversal.

After being scheduled for an April 2023 execution, Cantu’s death was put on hold by a judge who allowed Cantu and his legal team time to prove that the testimony and evidence his conviction was based on were unreliable. Cantu was also previously scheduled for an execution in 2012.

Cantu has argued that his cousin, 27-year-old James Mosqueda, was a drug dealer indebted to a rival drug dealer who killed Mosqueda and his fiancée, Amy Kitchen.

Cantu’s former girlfriend, Amy Boettcher, and her brother, Jeff Boettcher, both testified against him during the trial.

According to a petition filed by Cantu’s attorney last year, Amy Boettcher, who died in 2021, testified that Cantu killed Mosqueda and Kitchen, took her to the crime scene, then went to Arkansas with her. She also said that she threw Cantu’s bloodied jeans in a garbage can before they left town, the petition noted. The bloodied jeans were a key piece of evidence in Cantu’s trial, but Cantu has argued that someone planted the jeans, which were not his correct size, while they were out of town.

Mosqueda’s Rolex watch was also a key piece of evidence in the case. While Amy Boettcher said that Cantu threw Mosqueda’s watch out of a window, authorities found the watch in Mosqueda’s home after his death and gave it to his family, according to Cantu’s legal team. The finding illustrates at least one discrepancy in her testimony.

In another discrepancy, Amy Boettcher also said that Cantu proposed to her on the day of the killings with a ring from Kitchen’s body, but multiple witnesses said the two had gotten engaged before then, Cantu’s attorney said, according to The Associated Press.

Jeff Boettcher was out of town during the killings but said during the trial that Cantu told him about it beforehand. Jeff Boettcher has said that he “lied” during his testimony, adding that he is remorseful and that he was dependent on drugs at the time, according to a video of him talking to an attorney and investigator in 2022.

In addition, at least two jurors wrote declarations last year detailing their concerns about the fairness of Cantu’s trial.

“I believe that as jurors, we collectively decided fairly based on the evidence brought forth by the prosecutors,” Jeff Calhoun, the jury foreman, wrote in his declaration, according to The Texas Tribune. “The unfortunate outcome, though, is that the trial itself was not fair as perjury was committed. I don’t know where else the truth was fabricated, if anywhere, but this alone leaves me apprehensive that we were presented with the total truth.”

“I do not want the execution of Mr. Cantu to be carried out unless a careful and thorough review of the evidence is conducted,” said Maurice Jacob, one of the jurors, according to The Associated Press.

Texas is the leader in executions across the U.S., with a remarkable 586 state-sanctioned killings from 1977 to 2023, according to U.S. News & World Report. The state also led in executions last year, killing eight people, according to the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.

Texas, which currently holds nearly 200 people on death row, has convicted, sentenced and released at least 16 known innocent former death row inmates since 1976, according to The Death Penalty Information Center. “Several” more were executed despite strong evidence opposing their convictions, DPIC added.

Once an individual is on death row, it is difficult to change their fate. From 2018 to 2022, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles considered 38 applications for clemency in capital punishment cases but recommended clemency in just two of them, according to The Texas Board of Pardons And Paroles’ annual report, published in February 2023. The report detailing statistics for 2023 had not yet been published at the time of writing. After the board recommends clemency, the decision goes to the governor, in this case Republican Greg Abbott, for final approval.

Cantu submitted a request to the board, but he and his legal team also took other routes in hopes of having his life spared.

In August 2023, months after Cantu evaded his April execution date, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals dismissed his appeal, saying his reasons did not meet the criteria for them to review it. The move means that Cantu is not allowed to bring his case for consideration at the federal level.

Cantu’s legal team also submitted pleas across multiple courts in an effort to keep him alive, according to a local Fox affiliate. But on Wednesday, an attorney told a Dallas Morning News reporter they “couldn’t find a viable path” to get his case reviewed.

A petition with more than 80,000 signatures was sent to Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis ahead of Wednesday asking him to stay Cantu’s execution. Still, Willis remained unmoved, the Morning News added.

On Wednesday, Willis released a statement on X, formerly Twitter, saying “Cantu’s guilt was confirmed with clear and powerful evidence.”

“After over two decades of multiple state and federal courts comprehensively reviewing his conviction, Ivan Cantu has finally met with justice tonight. My hopeful prayer is for the victims’ families, friends, and loved ones to find a long-awaited sense of peace.

Cantu had received support from TV personality Kim Kardashian as well as Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) and his brother, attorney Julián Castro, who was the housing and urban development secretary in the Obama administration.

Kardashian, a staunch prison reform advocate, has posted about Cantu numerous times on X, calling on her followers to push Abbott toward granting a 30-day reprieve for Cantu.

“Whether you support capital punishment or not, the right to due process and a fair trial are principles we should all believe in. But a justice system that takes someone’s life without considering new evidence or faulty testimony that led to their conviction isn’t just at all,” the Castro brothers said in a joint statement. “We know a system built and maintained by human beings is subject to the limits of our imperfections. For that reason, we must examine every case with the gravity that capital cases demand.”

Cantu spoke with The Texas Tribune in an interview published earlier this month.

“Isn’t that crazy? I’m on death row, I have an attorney, a wonderful attorney, who knows what needs to be done to fix these problems with the court, and the rules and the laws are saying that her hands, basically her hands are tied behind her back,” Cantu told the Tribune.

“I often think about that because I don’t want to die,” he added, “it’s just days before they want to put me on a stretcher for a crime I didn’t commit — we’re doing our best to present the information to the courts, but it’s like they don’t care.”

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