In February 1983, Carlos DeLuna was arrested for the murder of Wanda Lopez, a young woman working at a gas station in Corpus Christi, Texas. DeLuna said he wasn’t the killer; it had been another man named Carlos. There was no blood on DeLuna’s clothes, and his history suggested nothing like what he was accused of. But witnesses identified him, and in July 1983 DeLuna was sentenced to death as the court system and public opinion decided “the other Carlos” never existed. Up to the moment he was executed in 1989 — in a botched lethal-injection procedure — DeLuna proclaimed his innocence.
Flash-forward to 2012, when a Columbia University law professor has a team of students study the case and publish a report that DeLuna, in fact, was innocent. The real killer, as stated in the Columbia Human Rights Law Review, was indeed Carlos Hernandez, who killed Wanda Lopez and then disappeared…like a phantom. Or so the justice system thought.
BAFTA-winning documentarian PATRICK FORBES journeys to Texas to speak to the people involved in this notorious case that represents everything wrong with the criminal justice system and, especially, with the death penalty. THE PHANTOM examines the story from every angle, speaking to police, prosecutors, defense attorneys, family members, witnesses, journalists who covered the trial, the TV reporter who interviewed DeLuna during his six years on death row, and, dramatically, one witness whose testimony could have made a difference — if only the court system wasn’t tilted toward tragedy, sloppy about evidence, and designed to see truth as something that’s as impossible to grasp as THE PHANTOM.