Scheduled Execution by Texas Sparks Controversy Amid Allegations of Wrongful Conviction

By Jenna Tooley

LIVINGSTON, TX – The scheduled execution of Ivan Cantu Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, in Texas has sparked controversy and renewed calls for justice following the emergence of new evidence suggesting a possible wrongful conviction, according to the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC).

The DPIC states Cantu was convicted and sentenced to death in Collin County for the murders of his cousin James Mosqueda and Mosqueda’s fiancée Amy Kitchen in 2000. Despite maintaining his innocence since serving 24 years on death row, recent revelations have raised significant doubts about the validity of his conviction. according to the DPIC.

Cantu’s legal battle highlights the complexities and challenges within the criminal justice system. Despite efforts by his legal team to present new evidence and challenge the conviction, Texas courts have consistently declined to consider crucial information that could potentially exonerate him, as noted by the DPIC, noting Cantu was initially set to be executed in 2003, but “a last-minute appeal describing new evidence of false witness testimony provided grounds for a stay of execution.”

According to the Texas Tribune, “Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (TCCA) overturned the stay and dismissed Mr. Cantu’s request for an evidentiary hearing four months later without explaining its reasons. In more recent court filings, Mr. Cantu’s attorneys argue that numerous issues in his case warrant a new trial, including the recantation of a key witness.”

Central to Cantu’s case are the testimonies of key witnesses, particularly that of Amy Boettcher, his then-fiancée, and her brother Jeff Boettcher. Amy Boettcher testified “he committed the murders, took her to the scene of the crime, and then took her on a trip to Arkansas. 

Law enforcement said they found one of the victim’s cars outside of Cantu’s apartment the following day, as well as bloody pants matching the victims’ DNA in  Cantu’s trash can,” according to the DPIC.. Boettcher also testified that she got rid of Mr. Cantu’s bloody clothing after the murder and said that Cantu threw the victim’s Rolex watch out of a moving car as they went out of town, stated by DPIC.

Jeff Boettcher also testified against Cantu, telling the jury Cantu informed him of the murders before they happened and later asked him to help clean up the crime scene, according to the DPIC. 

The DPIC states, “Mr. Cantu has maintained his innocence since his arrest, arguing that his cousin was killed by a local drug dealer and rival and that police planted evidence.”

The DPIC states that while Amy Boettcher’s testimony played a pivotal role in the prosecution’s case, recent revelations, including Jeff Boettcher’s recantation of his trial testimony and inconsistencies in Amy Boettcher’s statements, have raised doubts about the reliability of their accounts.

According to the DPIC, “Speaking with an investigator and attorney in 2022, Mr. Boettcher told them that he lied and admitted that he was not reliable at the time of trial, since he was out of state during the murder and was a frequent drug user. He reiterated his remorse for helping place Mr. Cantu on death row.”

Additionally, the DPIC asserted new evidence uncovered by Cantu’s legal team, such as the discovery of the victim’s Rolex watch in Mosqueda’s home shortly after the murder and discrepancies in the ballistic evidence presented at trial, further undermining the prosecution’s case. Despite these developments, Texas courts have refused to grant Cantu an evidentiary hearing or a new trial.

Furthermore, the DPIC states, “In 2020, the police officer who performed a wellness check on Mr. Cantu, requested by his mother after she heard his cousin was killed, signed an affidavit stating she did not see bloody clothes in Mr. Cantu’s trash can. Neither Mr. Cantu nor Ms. Boettcher were home during the wellness check, as they were in Arkansas.”

Cantu’s attorney, Gena Bunn, has highlighted failures in legal representation during his trial as contributing factors to his unjust conviction, as stated by the DPIC.

DPIC said Bunn has represented Cantu for over 15 years and “filed another request in January 2024, asking the Court to reexamine ballistic evidence used to secure Mr. Cantu’s conviction. 

Independent investigators and experts have now concluded from their own ballistic experiments that there is reason to doubt the forensic report introduced at trial,” said DPIC.  Bunn also argued, “They did not even have a defense investigator,” Bunn told the Texas Tribune, adding, “Even considering how capital representation was 20 years ago, still that blows my mind.”

“Compared to the state’s medical examiner, ballistics, DNA, fingerprint and blood spatter experts, Cantu’s defense didn’t call on a single expert to refute prosecutors’ case, Bunn said in a report by Texas Tribune. 

In a report by the Texas Tribune, Cantu states, “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.”

The case has garnered attention and support from advocates, legal experts, and prominent figures like Sister Helen Prejean and actor Martin Sheen, who have called for Cantu’s execution to be halted pending a thorough review of his case, according to the DPIC. Sister Prejean emphasized the importance of fairness and due process in addressing the new evidence presented.

Prejean affirmed that if the execution isn’t halted she would remain by Cantu’s side for the duration of the execution. “He’s asked me to be with him if they execute him, and to pray with him,” Sister Prejean said in the DPIC report. 

“But there’s no way I’m just going to be with this man and pray with him and ease him into eternity without doing everything I know to do to resist this death. Because there’s so many wrongs that have been done,” according to Sister Prejean in the DPIC report.

About The Author

Jenna Tooley is a third-year senior studying Political Science with a concentration in American Politics and minors in Global Studies and Public Affairs at the University of California, Los Angeles. She has a passion for social justice and advocacy work and intends on pursuing Law School in the very near future, with a potential specialization in Criminal Law in aims of dismantiling the stigma around incarcerated people and addressing the root causes of recidvism to provides incarcerated people resources and rehabilitation to independently function upon re-entry into society. Outside of her advocacy work she enjoys traveling and sightseeing, aborbing the ambiance of coffee shops, and thifting as a form of self-care.

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