- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 19, 2006

HUNTSVILLE, Texas — Ruben Cantu loudly proclaimed his innocence before he was executed in 1993 — as he had for the eight years he spent on Texas’ death row.

Few paid much attention to Cantu, who was convicted in 1985 for killing a Mexican-born contractor and critically wounding another during a home robbery in November 1984.

But 13 years later, the San Antonio district attorney has assembled a special team to reinvestigate the case after accusations arose that Cantu was not at the scene of the crime and that San Antonio police officers might have framed him because he previously had wounded a detective in a drunken barroom brawl.

Several witnesses, including Juan Moreno — who was injured in the robbery — now claim Cantu was not the gunman. Another man says Cantu was in Waco, about 175 miles from the murder scene, that night.

In addition, two Texas newspapers — the Houston Chronicle and the San Antonio Express-News — ferreted out recordings of telephone conversations between police officers and prosecutors that indicated considerable bias in the case.

Police had no solid leads after the 1985 murder. Mr. Moreno, who was shown mug shots of Cantu, said he was not the man who had shot him. However, Bill Ewell, the police sergeant in charge of the case, and Detective Joe De La Luz eventually got Mr. Moreno to say that Cantu was the gunman.

Some speculated that Cantu might have been framed because he earlier had wounded Detective De La Luz in a bar brawl in which both had shot pistols at each other.

Mr. Ewell denies that Detective De La Luz’s shooting had anything to do with his getting an indictment against Cantu.

“The unstated theme of your questions,” he told the San Antonio Express-News, “is that because of my friendship with Joe De La Luz, I somehow coerced an identification of Ruben Cantu, which led to his conviction and execution. I very strongly resent the implication, which I view as an attack on my integrity.”

David Garza, convicted as Cantu’s accomplice, claims interrogators told him they knew Cantu was the shooter because earlier he “had hurt an officer.”

When the Cantu investigation returned to the news a few months ago, San Antonio District Attorney Susan Reed ordered a review of evidence in the case and renewed questioning of those who had changed their testimony — those now claiming Cantu was innocent.

Mrs. Reed, a respected former district judge, vowed to fairly evaluate the situation.

But before they had even interviewed two of the recanting witnesses, Mrs. Reed’s top investigators apparently had made up their minds.

Profanity-laced telephone calls between investigators James Moore and Mike Beers and Mr. Ewell added a new element — causing some to doubt the sincerity of the investigation.

“They’re lying. They’re all lying, and they know they’re lying,” Mr. Beers told Mr. Ewell in February.

On March 7, long before the investigation was complete, Mr. Moore assured Mr. Ewell that nothing would come of the probe.

“It’s going to go forward with the fact that it was justified and everything was correct and that’s the way it is,” he said.

First Assistant District Attorney Cliff Herberg called the telephone exchanges “shop talk” but acknowledged that they could have a negative effect on the public’s perception of the investigation.

“This obviously does not help that,” Mr. Herberg said.

Meanwhile, Mr. Garza’s attorneys have filed a motion to shut down the district attorney’s investigation and have a special prosecutor handle the case instead.

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