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Lawyers Say Evidence Suggests He Was Framed, Yet Texas Executes Convicted Killer Ivan Cantu

By William Melhado, The Texas Tribune, Feb. 28, 2024

Texas executed Ivan Cantu Wednesday (February 28) for the murder of his cousin and his cousin’s fiancée, James Mosqueda and Amy Kitchen. Prior to the state’s first execution of the year, post-trial evidence raising questions about Cantu’s guilt had persuaded jurors from his original trial to ask Texas courts to reconsider his case.

A public campaign pushing to pause the execution won the support of thousands of Texans, celebrities, and faith leaders who called for a closer look at the case in light of recanted testimony from a key witness and claims that another witness lied on the stand.

At 6:26 p.m., Cantu was injected with a lethal dose of pentobarbital. He died 21 minutes later.

In his final statement Cantu staunchly maintained his innocence. Addressing Mosqueda and Kitchen’s families, Cantu said if he had known who their killer was he would have immediately come forward with that information.

“I want you all to know that I don’t think that this situation here will bring you closure,” Cantu said.

Before he was killed, he thanked the many people who helped him with his case, including his lawyer, Gena Bunn, and private investigator Matt Duff, who produced a podcast about Cantu’s case that questioned elements of his original trial.

“We took up the cause of this man because mistakes were made at his trial,” Sister Helen Prejean, a leading anti-death penalty advocate who served as Cantu’s spiritual adviser, said in a statement following his execution. “Remember, by speaking up and taking action for Ivan together, we are bending the arc toward justice and are one step closer to ending the death penalty.”

In 2001, a jury sentenced Cantu to death for the murder of Mosqueda and Kitchen, who were shot in Dallas in November 2000. Kitchen was a nursing student at the time of her murder.

Prosecutors pointed to bloody clothing found in Cantu’s trash can, stolen jewelry and the testimony from Cantu’s financée, Amy Boettcher, and her brother, Jeff Boettcher, to build a case against the defendant. Jeff Calhoun, the jury foreman in the 2001 trial, said their testimony was the most compelling evidence supporting Cantu’s guilt.

“I sat there and listened to the story play out for a month,” Calhoun said in an interview with The Texas Tribune prior to Cantu’s execution. “I made a decision and signed a document that said, ‘Yes, the death penalty is in order here.’”

But decades later, Calhoun had decided that Cantu’s case should be reconsidered after he learned Jeff Boettcher had lied to him and the other jurors.

Amy Boettcher, Cantu’s fiancée at the time of the murders, was a crucial witness in the state’s case. She said that she disposed of bloody jeans in a trash can inside Cantu’s kitchen that he wore when shooting Mosqueda and Kitchen.

A police officer who inspected Cantu’s apartment shortly after the murders signed a sworn affidavit in 2020 that she did not believe that the bloody jeans were in the apartment when she went to check on him at the request of Cantu’s concerned mother. The jeans were too big for Cantu and tests did not find conclusive evidence of his DNA on the pants. All of which, Cantu’s legal team said, indicates that he was framed for the crime.

Amy Boettcher also testified that Cantu threw a Rolex watch belonging to Mosqueda out of a car window as the couple was driving to downtown Dallas to a club shortly after the murders.

Cantu’s legal team learned in 2019 that officers recovered the Rolex watch after finding it in Mosqueda’s home and returned it to his family shortly after the murder.

In recent state court filings, Cantu’s legal team argued that the Collin County District Attorney’s office knowingly withheld this evidence, suggesting that Amy Boettcher was willing to give false evidence under oath to assist the state’s case.

After Amy Boettcher died in 2021, her brother called investigators with the Collin County District Attorney’s office to recant parts of his testimony. Jeff Boettcher said he lied about Cantu recruiting him to clean up after the murders to protect his sister. He admitted to being a frequent drug user at the time of the trial and that his testimony wasn’t reliable.

New doubts about the Boettchers’ testimony were enough for a Republican state district judge to withdraw his court order for Cantu’s execution in April last year. The Court of Criminal Appeals denied Cantu’s appeal four months later.

Cantu’s legal team filed additional appeals with the state’s highest criminal court, alleging that the state was aware of Amy Boettcher’s false testimony but relied on her nonetheless. On Tuesday, both the state’s highest criminal court and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied his last-minute requests to stay the execution. Earlier in the week, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously denied Cantu’s clemency application

Advocates working on Cantu’s behalf collected over 150,000 signatures demanding Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis withdraw the execution date.

Public figures, including media personality Kim Kardashian and the actors Martin Sheen and Jane Fonda, called on Gov. Greg Abbott, a staunch supporter of the death penalty, to stay Cantu’s execution.

Two other jurors, in addition to Calhoun, also asked for Cantu to receive another trial.

“By no means am I protesting the death penalty, by no means am I protesting our judicial system and I’m certainly not protesting Governor Abbott,” Calhoun said before the execution, adamantly affirming his support for the governor. “I’m simply asking that this be looked at a little deeper before the unripened fruit is taken off the tree.”

In a statement following Cantu’s execution, Texas Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty said the state turned a blind eye to mounting evidence that cast significant doubt on Cantu’s guilt.

“Regardless of where you stand on capital punishment, it is a great miscarriage of justice when we put to death a potentially innocent person. When valid concerns arise, it is imperative that the State of Texas acts in good faith and ensures that justice is accurately and thoroughly served in every case,” the statement read.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

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Faithfully Magazine is a fresh, bold and exciting news and culture publication that covers issues, conversations and events impacting Christian communities of color.


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