Texas inmate facing execution says new evidence points to innocence

HOUSTON– A Texas inmate who has long said he is innocent and claims his conviction more than two decades ago was based on false testimony and questionable evidence will be executed Wednesday for fatally shooting two people, including his cousin.

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

Prosecutors have said 50-year-old Cantu Mosqueda, who was dealing illegal drugs, killed Kitchen as he tried to steal cocaine, marijuana and cash from his cousin’s home. Cantu, convicted in 2001, claims a rival drug dealer killed his cousin over a dispute over money.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday denied Cantu’s request to delay his execution. His request was rejected on procedural grounds and without assessing its merits. Cantu’s attorney was expected to file 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 sentence. Members also rejected granting a four-month extension.

Efforts to delay Cantu’s execution have drawn support from religious leaders, celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and actor Martin Sheen, and US Representative Joaquin Castro, and his brother, former US Housing Secretary Julian Castro.

Three jurors from Cantu’s trial have also asked for a stay of execution because they now have doubts about the case.

Cantu’s planned execution is one of two to take place in the US on Wednesday. In Idaho, Thomas Eugene Creech will receive a lethal injection for killing a fellow inmate with a battery-filled sock in 1981.

Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis, whose office convicted Cantu, said the 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 petition that new evidence “calls into question the integrity of the state’s guilt case 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 house. Mosqueda’s blood was found on the barrel of the gun, while Cantu’s fingerprints were found on the gun’s magazine.

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

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

But Bunn claims Boettcher’s testimony was riddled with false statements, including that Cantu stole Mosqueda’s Rolex watch and that Cantu gave her an engagement ring he stole from Kitchen.

Another prosecution witness, Jeff Boettcher, Amy Boettcher’s brother, told authorities in 2022 that his testimony suggesting Cantu was false and that he was not a credible witness because of his history of drug abuse.

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

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

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

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

Kardashian and others have asked Governor Greg Abbott for an extension to delay Cantu’s execution.

Abbott can grant a one-time extension of 30 days. But since taking office in 2015, Abbott has halted only one pending execution. An Abbott spokesperson did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

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


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