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Texas inmate facing execution for 2000 fatal shooting says new evidence points to his innocence

By The Associated Press
Posted 1:02AM on Wednesday 28th February 2024 ( 4 months ago )

HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas inmate who has long said he’s innocent and claims that his conviction more than 20 years ago was based on false testimony and questionable evidence faces execution Wednesday for fatally shooting two people, including his cousin.

Ivan Cantu was condemned for the killing of his cousin, James Mosqueda, 27, and his cousin’s girlfriend, Amy Kitchen, 22, during a November 2000 robbery at their north Dallas home. His execution by lethal injection is set to take place at the state penitentiary in Huntsville.

Prosecutors have said Cantu, 50, killed Mosqueda, who dealt illegal drugs, and Kitchen as he tried to steal cocaine, marijuana and cash from his cousin’s home. Convicted in 2001, Cantu has claimed a rival drug dealer killed his cousin over a dispute about money.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday denied Cantu's request to stay his execution, dismissing his petition on procedural grounds and without reviewing its merits. Cantu's lawyer was expected to submit a final appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court. On Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 7-0 against commuting Cantu’s death sentence to a lesser penalty. Members also rejected granting a four-month reprieve.

Efforts to delay Cantu’s execution have received the support of faith leaders, celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and actor Martin Sheen, and U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, and his brother, former U.S. Housing Secretary Julian Castro.

Three jurors from Cantu’s trial have also asked for an execution delay, saying they now have doubts about the case.

Cantu’s scheduled execution is one of two set to be carried out in the U.S. on Wednesday. In Idaho, Thomas Eugene Creech is set to receive a lethal injection for killing a fellow prisoner with a battery-filled sock in 1981.

Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis, whose office convicted Cantu, said evidence presented at trial proved Cantu's guilt.

“I remain fully convinced that Ivan Cantu brutally murdered two innocent victims in 2000,” Willis said in a statement.

But Gena Bunn, Cantu’s attorney, wrote in Cantu’s clemency application that new evidence “impugns the integrity of the State’s case for guilt and raises the specter that the State of Texas could execute an innocent man.”

In Cantu’s apartment, police found bloody jeans with the victims’ DNA and a key to the victims’ home. Police found Cantu’s gun at his ex-girlfriend’s home. Mosqueda’s blood was found on the gun’s barrel, while Cantu’s fingerprints were found on the gun’s magazine.

In a 2005 affidavit, Matthew Goeller, one of Cantu’s trial attorneys, said Cantu admitted to him “he had indeed killed Mosqueda for ‘ripping him off’ on a drug deal” and that Kitchen was killed because she was a witness.

Cantu’s then-girlfriend, Amy Boettcher, was the prosecution’s main witness. Boettcher, who died in 2021, testified that Cantu told her he was going to kill Mosqueda and Kitchen and later took her back to the crime scene after the killings.

But Bunn alleges Boettcher’s testimony was riddled with false statements, including about Cantu stealing Mosqueda’s Rolex watch and Cantu giving her an engagement ring he stole from Kitchen.

Another prosecution witness, Jeff Boettcher, Amy Boettcher’s brother, told authorities in 2022 his testimony implicating Cantu was false and he wasn't a credible witness due to his drug abuse history.

Bunn said new witness statements also help confirm Cantu's claim that a man who had supplied drugs to Mosqueda had threatened him two days before the killings.

Bunn has credited an independent probe by Matt Duff, a private investigator, with uncovering much of the new evidence. Duff has chronicled his findings in a podcast called “Cousins By Blood.”

Willis’ office has said in court documents “Amy Boettcher testified truthfully” and Cantu’s lawyers “misconstrued” Jeff Boettcher’s 2022 interview with authorities.

Of the new evidence presented by Cantu, Willis’ office has said “none of it destroys the cornerstones of the State’s case.”

Kardashian and others have asked Gov. Greg Abbott to issue a reprieve to delay Cantu’s execution.

Abbott can grant a one-time 30-day reprieve. But since taking office in 2015, Abbott has halted only one imminent execution. A spokesperson for Abbott didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

If Cantu’s execution proceeds, it would be the first this year in Texas.

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Follow Juan A. Lozano: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70

FILE - This undated booking photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows Texas death row inmate Ivan Cantu. Cantu, who has long said he's innocent and claims that his conviction more than 20 years ago was based on false testimony and questionable evidence, is facing execution for fatally shooting two people, including his cousin. He's scheduled to receive a lethal injection Wednesday evening, Feb. 28, 2024, at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. (Texas Department of Criminal Justice via AP, File)
FILE - This undated booking photo provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows Texas death row inmate Ivan Cantu. Cantu, who has long said he's innocent and claims that his conviction more than 20 years ago was based on false testimony and questionable evidence, is facing execution for fatally shooting two people, including his cousin. He's scheduled to receive a lethal injection Wednesday evening, Feb. 28, 2024, at the state penitentiary in Huntsville, Texas. (Texas Department of Criminal Justice via AP, File)

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