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Did Texas Execute an Innocent San Antonio Man? Freeing of the West Memphis 3 Reminds Us That the Criminal Justice System is Not Perfect

The recent release of Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, and Jason Baldwin (also known as the West Memphis Three) may remind the residents of San Antonio and Bexar County of another young man – Ruben Cantu. Ruben Cantu was a Texan who was tried in San Antonio, Texas for the murder and attempted murder of two males at a construction site. While the two cases vary in both the scope of the crimes and the outcomes of those convicted, they can teach us an indispensable lesson in the fallible nature of our criminal justice system.

In both cases, all four young men were all tried as adults (despite the fact that Damien Echols was the only one who was over the age of 18 years old at the time of his alleged crime) and there was no physical evidence linking them to the crimes. In addition, the prosecution’s entire cases hinged on the shaky testimonies of sole eye witnesses. Testimonies that were later recanted.

In San Antonio, Ruben Cantu was convicted and later executed for armed robbery and murder that occurred in 1984. Many believed, and still believe, that Ruben Cantu became the prime suspect months later when he shot an off-duty police officer in a barroom altercation. Was Ruben Cantu framed for a crime he did not commit because of an unrelated incident? In the years following his conviction, the surviving victim Juan Moreno, the co-defendant David Garza, the then Bexar County District Attorney Sam Millsap, and the head juror have all publicly declared that Ruben Cantu’s guilty verdict and death sentence were a mistake. The state of Texas administered a lethal injection to an innocent man.

Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, and Jason Baldwin were convicted for the murder of three Cub Scouts in Arkansas. The West Memphis Three, unlike Ruben Cantu, walked out of prison on August 19, 2011 after spending 18 years and 78 days for a crime that they did not commit. But they are not truly free men. Under the terms of their release, they pled guilty pursuant to an Alford Plea which allows them to still maintain their innocence and are under ten year suspended sentences. Until they are exonerated, the real killer(s) may never be brought to justice and the three men will not be able to sue the state of Arkansas for wrongful imprisonment.

Innocent until proven guilty. That is the foundation of the United States legal system. Unfortunately, the ideal has shifted and now it seems that a person, when accused of a crime, is presumed guilty unless they can prove their innocence. The burden of proof is on the prosecution to compile and present the facts of the case in such a manner that there cannot be a reasonable doubt. If there are any doubts in a criminal case, the accused must be acquitted.

At the Law Office of Dayna L. Jones we believe that you are innocent until proven guilty and it is our job to prevent the district attorney from doing so. If you have been arrested or are under investigation for murder or any other crime, contact us at (210) 255-8525 to schedule an appointment with the attorney. Calls are answered 24 hours a day, 7 days per week.