Texas executed its fifth teenage offender on Aug. 24, 1993, after his final claim of innocence was rejected. Ruben Cantu, 17 at the time of his crime, had no previous convictions, but a San Antonio prosecutor had branded him a violent thief, gang member and murderer who ruthlessly shot one victim nine times with a rifle before emptying at least nine more rounds into the only eyewitness. Four days after a jury delivered its verdict, Cantu wrote to residents of San Antonio: “My name is Ruben M. Cantu and I am only 18 years old. I got to the 9th grade and I have been framed in a capital murder case.”
A dozen years after his execution, a Houston Chronicle investigation suggests that Cantu was likely telling the truth. Cantu’s long-silent co-defendant, David Garza, just 15 when the two boys allegedly committed a murder-robbery together, has signed a sworn affidavit saying he allowed his friend to be falsely accused, though Cantu wasn’t with him the night of the killing. And the lone eyewitness, the man who survived the shooting, has recanted. He told the Chronicle he’s sure that the person who shot him was not Cantu, but he felt pressured by police to identify the boy as the killer. Presented with this and other new evidence, the judge, prosecutor, head juror and defense attorney in the case now acknowledge that his conviction seems to have been built on omissions and lies.