Carlos De Luna

Nueces County, Texas
Date of Crime:  February 4, 1983
Executed December 7, 1989

Carlos De Luna was sentenced to death for the murder of a convenience store and gas station clerk named Wanda Jean Lopez. Lopez, 24, was stabbed at a Sigmor gas station on South Padre Island Drive in Corpus Christi. Her blood splattered on the store walls, the cash register, and the floor. Forty minutes after the murder, police found De Luna hiding under a pick-up truck on a side street a few hundred yards from the station. He had taken off his shirt and shoes. But there was no blood on his face or pants. And when his shirt and shoes were found, no blood was on them either.

A witness, Kevan Baker, told police the killer has a moustache and wore a gray or a flannel shirt. But De Luna had no moustache and his found shirt was white. When De Luna was brought to the gas station in shackles, Baker identified him as the killer, but later said he was never sure and only identified De Luna because police told him De Luna was found hiding under a truck. Another witness, George Aguirre, also reportedly had seen the killer. But at a pre-trial hearing, Aguirre was unable to point out De Luna in the courtroom. Nevertheless, he identified De Luna at trial. When the Chicago Tribune reinvestigated the crime, Aguirre declined to be interviewed.

De Luna told authorities he saw an acquaintance, Carlos Hernandez, struggling with Lopez, when he left a bar across the street from the gas station where he had been drinking. He then fled and hid because he was on parole and could be sent back to jail for drinking. At trial, in response to De Luna's allegation, the lead prosecutor, Steve Schiwetz, told the jury that Carlos Hernandez was “a phantom.” However, his co-prosecutor, Ken Botary, was well aware that Hernandez was a real person. Three years earlier, Botary had prosecuted another murder case and lost after defense lawyers argued that Hernandez was the real killer. But Botary remained silent. Both Hernandez and De Luna looked alike were about the same height, although Hernandez habitually wore a moustache. Both had criminal records, but Hernandez committed most of his crimes with a large knife, while De Luna never used a weapon.

De Luna had $149 on him at the time of his arrest. Prosecutors said this money was stolen from the gas station. At trial, a district manager for the chain of Sigmor stations told the jury that an inventory performed the night of the crime showed a shortage of $166. He couldn't say how much of that was merchandise and how much, if any, was cash. An accounting expert hired during a reinvestigation of the crime disputed the inventory report used by prosecutors at trial. He concluded that Sigmor's bookkeeping system was too haphazard to be accurate. “They can't know how much cash was missing,” he said, “because they can't know how much cash was there.”

A Sigmor employee, Robert Stange, who was called to the gas station after the murder, did not believe any money was stolen. He found $55 in cash receipts and noted that Lopez always made a cash drop into a safe whenever she accumulated $100. A log shows she had done this 38 minutes before her murder. Evidence showed De Luna had cashed a paycheck for $135 the day of the murder and $71 a week earlier. Defense attorneys noted De Luna's money was found in a neat roll, unlike the scattered blood-stained bills found at the gas station. None of the bills found on De Luna tested positive for blood.

Baker, the eyewitness, had told police the victim's struggle with the assailant looked like a lover's quarrel. There was no indication that De Luna knew Lopez. The supposed robbery was the only factor elevating the murder to a death-eligible crime. Hernandez' neighbors said Hernandez knew Lopez and was romantically interested in her.

De Luna was executed by lethal injection at age 27 on Dec. 7, 1989. Ten years later, following Hernandez's death in 1999, his family members and acquaintances began breaking their silence regarding his involvement in the Lopez murder. A Chicago Tribune investigation found five witnesses who said Hernandez told them he killed Lopez. One of the statements he made was “My stupid tocayo [namesake] took the blame for it,” referring to De Luna by their shared first names.

Witnesses said Hernandez admitted murdering another woman, Dahlia Sauceda, who was killed in 1979. He was indicted for this crime in 1986, but was never tried. One witness was so afraid of Hernandez that she never contacted police about his admissions, not even after he cut her from her navel to her sternum during a quarrel. Eddie Garza, one of Corpus Christi's senior detectives at the time of the Lopez murder said he believed De Luna was wrongly executed. Garza said tipsters had told him that Hernandez killed Lopez.

Death-house chaplain Rev. Carroll Pickett, who ministered to De Luna prior to his execution, noted that most inmates, even those who claimed innocence in a final statement, would confide their guilt to him. But De Luna did not. Picket had ministered to 94 other inmates on the days of their executions. Pickett noted things he would always remember about De Luna: How De Luna claimed he was innocent, how he took longer to die than most inmates, and how he tried to raise his head from the gurney and speak to Pickett before the lethal injection left him lifeless. “When I saw him die,” Pickett said, “part of me died too.”  [9/09]


References:  Chicago TribuneABC News Video, NCADP, CSB, TCLB

Posted in:  Victims of the State, Southeast Texas Cases, Defendants Executed by Texas