An Execution and a Prosecutor’s Regret
Ruben Cantu was 17 years old at the time Pedro Gomez was murdered and Juan Moreno was wounded. On November 8, 1984, both Gomez and Moreno were shot, but Moreno survived the attack with serious injuries. Moreno, who was not a legal citizen of the United States at the time, was pressured into identifying Cantu as the perpetrator. He provided the sole testimony against Cantu.
Cantu had no prior convictions and a solid alibi– he was in a different city the night of the attack. But, Moreno’s emotional testimony swayed the jury. Cantu was convicted and sentenced to death in 1986. Juan Moreno later recanted his testimony, but Ruben Cantu was executed in 1993.
In 2005, 12 years after Cantu’s execution, the Houston Chronicle began investigating the case, and uncovered the serious errors that lead to his conviction and execution. Juan Moreno told the Houston Chronicle that he is certain that Cantu was not the killer, and that police had pressured him to say Cantu had committed the murder.
“It was a case of an innocent person being killed,” Moreno said of Cantu’s execution.
Sam Millsap, the Bexar County District Attorney who made the decision to charge Cantu with a capital offense, has taken personal responsibility for the execution of a likely innocent man.
“The person I prosecuted in 1985, Ruben Cantu, was probably innocent,” said Millsap.
As a former prosecutor, Millsap is one of the last people expected to be opposed to the death penalty, but he knows the risks of the
death penalty better than most.
“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,” Millsap said.
When Millsap visited Topeka, KS, in 2009, he spoke about the lingering doubts about Cantu’s execution, saying that even after all of these years, “the most serious questions imaginable remain.”
As long as the death penalty is an option, there is the unacceptable risk of executing the innocent. As Sam Millsap knows, “…our criminal justice system is driven, on its very best day…by imperfect human beings. These people make mistakes from time to time.” Despite the best intentions, these mistakes can and do happen. Replacing the death penalty with life without parole will ensure that Kansas never executes an innocent person.