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Texas executes Ivan Cantu, who denied killing 2 people

Cantu said his conviction was based on false testimony and questionable evidence. Collin County's district attorney said he remains "fully convinced" of his guilt.

A Texas man was executed Wednesday despite his and his attorney's claims that his 2001 conviction for killing his cousin and his cousin's girlfriend was based on questionable evidence and false testimony.

Ivan Cantu died Wednesday evening at the Huntsville State Penitentiary by lethal injection.

His death was confirmed in a statement by Collin County Prosecutor Greg Willis: “After two decades of multiple reviews of his conviction, by both state and federal courts, Ivan Cantu finally found justice,” he posted on Twitter.

Cantu, born in Dallas 50 years ago, was convicted of the death in Dallas in 2000 of his cousin, James Mosqueda, 27; and Amy Kitchen, Mosqueda’s fiancee, 22 years old. Cantu was 28 years old at the time.

According to a statement from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Cantu’s last words were addressed to the Mosqueda and Kitchen families, and it included the statement, "I want you to know that I never killed James and Amy," adding that if he would have known who did, they would have been the first to know.

In a recent interview at the prison with Noticias Telemundo, Cantu said, “if you look at the evidence, you will clearly know that I didn’t commit the crime,” as he looked at the walls painted with murals of Sonic and Cookie Monster and the vending machines full of soda and candy on the visitors’ side, away from his reach.

“I’m calling on the Collin County prosecutor; the governor, [Greg] Abbott; and to the whole world: I’m not asking for anything special, just what I’m entitled to by law," Cantu said. "I want to be given a fair day in court, with a lawyer who knows what she’s doing and how to present the case, so we can prove my innocence and unravel my unjust conviction.”

Cantu’s case had garnered national attention: more than 145,000 people signed an online petition calling for a stay of his execution, and celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Martin Sheen and Jane Fonda, public officials like Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas and his brother, former U.S. Housing Secretary Julian Castro as well as organizations such as  Amnesty International had also advocated for a review of his sentence.

“There are no circumstances that justify hastening his execution,” Rep. Joaquin Castro told Noticias Telemundo in a statement. “There are serious doubts about his guilt, the State of Texas has a moral and ethical responsibility to ensure that his claims of innocence are thoroughly investigated. I urge Collin County District Attorney Willis to honor the spirit of the law and grant Cantu a stay of execution."

Prosecutors said Cantu killed Mosqueda, who dealt illegal drugs, and his fiancée as he tried to steal drugs from his cousin’s home. But Cantu claimed rival drug dealer killed his cousin in a dispute over money.

But in the years since his conviction, Cantu’s attorney, Gena Bunn, who has represented him pro bono for 15 years, private investigators and an independent podcast producer have said they’ve found evidence that they believe discredits the testimony of the main prosecution witness — Amy Boettcher, Cantu’s ex-fiancée — and casts doubts on his guilt.

“There are doubts about his legal representation at trial, the testimony of the state’s main witness and the evidence,” Mary Kapron, a researcher for Amnesty International, told Noticias Telemundo. “We have seen that several people on the jury have come out saying that they also have doubts about whether he is really guilty or not in the case.”

Two lower courts denied Cantu’s request to stay his execution on Tuesday. 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.

The bodies of Mosqueda and Kitchen were found on Nov. 4, 2000, with multiple gunshot wounds, but police did not find a weapon in their home. Police said items were missing from the home, including Mosqueda’s Rolex watch and Kitchen’s engagement ring.

The car belonging to Mosqueda was found parked outside the apartment Cantu shared with Boettcher just over a mile from the crime scene. According to police records, jeans and socks with drops of blood from the victims were found in Cantu’s kitchen trash can. Boettcher told police that Cantu had committed the murders.

But Cantu’s legal team claims to have found evidence that casts doubt on his guilt. An agent who went with Cantu’s mother to carry out a preliminary check of his home shortly after the murders stated there were no bloody clothes in the trash can. Boettcher had said the bloody pants were Cantu’s, but they were size 34/32 and Cantu claims that his size was 30/30.

Boettcher also claimed that on the night of the murders she saw Cantu wearing Mosqueda’s Rolex, but in 2019, Cantu’s father, Abner Cantu, said he discovered that the brother of Mosqueda’s fiancée took that watch from the crime scene and handed it over to the police, who had returned it to Mosqueda’s mother.

Boettcher further testified that, on the night of the crime, Cantu asked her to marry him and gave her a diamond ring that she later learned was the one Mosqueda gave to his fiancée. But witnesses found by Cantu’s lawyer say that Boettcher already had a ring a week before the crime.

Boettcher’s brother, Jeff Boettcher, testified at the trial that Cantu had told him he planned to kill Mosqueda and had tried to recruit him to “clean up” after the murder. But in 2022, a year after his sister Amy died at the age of 44, Jeff Boettcher recanted his testimony, claiming he had been under the influence of drugs and that the conversation “never happened.”

In a recent statement, Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis, whose office convicted Cantu, said that evidence presented at trial proved Cantu committed the killings. “I remain fully convinced that Ivan Cantu brutally murdered two innocent victims in 2000," he said.

Two weeks ago as his execution date approached, Cantu told Noticias Telemundo he was thinking of the victims’ families’ pain and anguish: “They are also my family, all of this is very sad. I think about them because James was my cousin, we grew up together. There are so many memories, our lives were cut short. The whole family needs to know the truth. They assumed the prosecution and the police were being honest and sincere, but they weren’t. We all need justice.”

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