By sudouest.fr with AFP
British director Patrick Forbes highlights the many wrongdoings that led to the hanging of an innocent man after a gas station cashier was killed in Texas in 1983.
Director Patrick Forbes hopes his documentary “The Phantom” will be a “spark”, with the news that US President Joe Biden will be executed “very clearly: an innocent hanged”. The film, which hits theaters on July 2, traces the murder of Wanda Lopez, who was stabbed to death one evening in 1983 at a gas station in Corpus Christi, Texas, where he worked as a cashier.
Shortly before he died, the young woman called police to report a suspect. The documentary, an accurate and thrilling remake, opens with a recording of his last words: “Do you want them? Take them and I will give them to you. I’m not going to do anything to you, please! Safe arrived too late to save her, and police chased after the culprit, who witnesses were seen fleeing on foot. Forty minutes later, they arrest Carlos de Luna, a 20-year-old man with an already heavy locker, who is hiding under a car.
Investigators who were determined to catch the killer, claiming he was innocent and not showing blood stains, will not look further. During his interrogation, Carlos de Luna explains that he escaped for fear of being involved, and assures that he knows the culprit: he says he knows a certain Carlos Hernandez in prison.
But, facing photos of men of that name, he could not be identified. And lies at the helm undermine its credibility. This Carlos Hernandez concludes that the lawyer is the fruit of his imagination, “a ghost,” and he is sentenced to death. After all of his appeals were dismissed, he was hanged in 1989.
Same first name
“From there, the truth slowly began to emerge,” says Patrick Forbes of the UK, who especially produced WikiLeaks: Secrets and Lies (2012). In 2004, James Lipman, a law professor at Columbia University, began a counter-investigation with the help of his students and a private investigator. They find out where Carlos Hernandez was. The man, who died in prison in 1999 and was serving a sentence for stabbing a woman, looked like Carlos de Luna, two drops of water.
In 2012, Professor Lipman and his students published a long essay entitled “The Two Carlos: Anatomy of a Miscarriage Justice”, which serves as the basis for the film. However, Patrick Forbes says he began his research without a clear idea. “If my film was a campaign clip against the death penalty, it would be bad,” he says.
Formally, he searched for all the protagonists of the case and screened police officers, lawyers, attorneys, witnesses … but the women who were the victims of Carlos Hernandez and the women who were shocked by the violence he inflicted on them. One of them said he had boasted to her that he had killed Wanda Lopez and had escaped justice by thanking her for the Spanish word for “person” of the same first name, “Tokayo”.
Today, Patrick Forbes thinks he has the truth: “It’s scary, but it’s also very human: people make mistakes”, and, according to him in this file, “all the mistakes that can be made have been made”. But for him, they are part of a legal system that does not provide equal opportunities for the poor and minorities. “The culprit is a poor Hispanic man, the executed innocent is a poor Hispanic man, they cannot be treated fairly.”
So he hopes his film will help rehabilitate Carlos de Luna, but “bring changes” is big. To do this, he agreed that “The Phantom” should be placed in the service of a petition calling on Democrat leader Joe Biden to change the sentences of those sentenced to death by federal justice.
Democrats said they opposed the death penalty during the campaign, but made no decision after taking office. Instead, his justice minister recently called for the death penalty for the perpetrator of the Boston Marathon bombings. Patrick Forbes believes Carlos de Luna’s case “incites him to change.” “Wouldn’t it be great if a film could make a real difference? “