Injustice in Texas: A Call for Fair Trial as Ivan Cantu’s Execution Nears Commentary
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Injustice in Texas: A Call for Fair Trial as Ivan Cantu’s Execution Nears

“It [was] a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

—   Macbeth 

When asked to imagine the stereotypes associated with Texas, one might conjure images of barbecue, big trucks, and cowboys. But perhaps a more apt image would be that of injustice undergirding execution. As it all too frequently has in the past, this will become depressingly evident on Wednesday, Feb. 28, when Ivan Cantu is executed.

Prosecutors claim that some two decades ago, Cantu killed his cousin, a drug dealer, along with the latter’s fiancée. Witnesses claim he did so to steal drugs and other valuables.

Cantu has always maintained his innocence, claiming a rival drug dealer killed his cousin. But, barring a miracle, he will be executed despite more than a Rolex-worth of reasonable doubt.

Myriad evidentiary problems undermine the state’s case against Cantu.

For starters, the testimony of the state’s star witness in Cantu’s conviction — his now deceased former fiancée Amy Boettcher — swiftly unraveled at the seams. From an uncorroborated claim of how she disposed of his bloodied clothing to a known lie about her engagement ring having been stolen from the scene, Boettcher’s testimony has long been riddled with holes. Another witness whose claims substantiated Amy’s proving particularly damning for Cantu ultimately recanted his testimony. Jeff Boettcher, Amy’s brother, attributed his false statements to a drug addiction and a drive to protect his sister.

But at the crux of my argument is evidence related to a Rolex watch — a watch Amy claimed Cantu stole from one of the victims at the scene, and subsequently tossed out of a car window. As I’ll explain below, there are many reasons this story should have proved questionable as the state made its case against Cantu. On its face, when it was offered at Cantu’s trial, Boettcher’s Rolex-toss testimony wasn’t tenable; one does not simply toss a Rolex out of a car window — particularly not after having just purloined it during a homicidal robbery.

Add to that the fact, as attorney Gena Bunn pointed out last year in her clemency petition on behalf of Cantu: The victim’s “Rolex watch, which his family initially reported to police was missing from the murder scene and which Amy Boettcher testified she saw Mr. Cantu dispose of the night of the murders, was found to have been in possession of the [victim’s] family all along, since shortly after the murders.”

Whether based on the totality of the evidence you believe Cantu is innocent or guilty, one line of reasoning should be absolutely uncontroversial: at a minimum, Cantu deserves a new trial — a trial untainted by the Boettcher siblings’ lies.

But don’t hold your breath. After all, your ensuing suffocation would be almost as painful, perhaps, as being executed with expired pentobarbital, a terrifying, terrible, and torturous prospect Cantu faces.

As I wrote in JURIST last September, in “Has the Texas Lawyer’s Creed Gone to Seed? An Exploration of Professional Ethics and the Death Penalty,” how can anyone have any confidence in the candor of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) and its attorneys when it comes to the expiration dates of the pentobarbital it will use to execute Cantu — or, for that matter, any other condemned prisoner in Texas in the future? The failure of any bar counsel, any court, or any government body, to hold TDCJ attorneys accountable for their egregious violation of legal ethics while pursuing the execution of Robert Fratta in January of last year has continuing consequences — just as violations of candor to the court retain their status as ethics violations. None of these wrongdoings can be undone until they have been corrected.

For more than a century, Rolex has enjoyed reputational excellence around the globe. This was not a fluke. It is largely due to the brand’s unfailing promise of reliability and precision, an ethos it describes in the following terms:  “Good governance and ethics guide our industrial and commercial activities.”

Tragically for Ivan Cantu and his loved ones, Texas’ criminal justice system does not hold itself to such lofty standards. Not even when it comes to evidence used by the state to convict a man of capital murder. Not even for a man who, to this day, two decades after the crimes that put him on death row, maintains his innocence.

Stephen Cooper is a former D.C. public. defender who worked as an assistant federal public defender in Alabama between 2012 and 2015. He has contributed to numerous magazines and newspapers in the United States and overseas. He writes full-time and lives in Woodland Hills, California. Follow him on “X”/Twitter @SteveCooperEsq

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