Texas Man Executed for Slayings of 2, Including Cousin

The Associated Press
By The Associated Press
February 28, 2024US News
Texas Man Executed for Slayings of 2, Including Cousin
Ivan Cantu. (Texas Department of Criminal Justice via AP)

HUNTSVILLE, Texas—A Texas man was executed Wednesday for fatally shooting two people, including his cousin.

Ivan Cantu received a lethal injection and was pronounced dead at 6:47 p.m. at the state penitentiary in Huntsville for the November 2000 fatal shooting of his cousin, James Mosqueda, 27, and his cousin’s girlfriend, Amy Kitchen, 22. In final words from the execution chamber, the 50-year-old inmate said several times that he was innocent.

“I want you to know that I never killed James and Amy,” he told relatives and a friend of Kitchen who stood feet away from him while watching through a window. “And if I did, if I knew who did, you would’ve been the first to know any information.”

He said he wanted them to know he didn’t think his death “will bring you closure. If it does, if this is what it takes or have any reservations off in your mind, then so be it.”

Prosecutors had said Mr. Cantu killed Mosqueda, who dealt illegal drugs, and Kitchen as he tried to steal cocaine, marijuana, and cash from his cousin’s north Dallas home. The inmate, who was convicted in 2001, had long claimed a rival drug dealer killed his cousin in a dispute over money.

Before his statement, his spiritual adviser, Helen Prejean, held in her hand his right hand that was strapped to the death chamber gurney and prayed quietly over him. He thanked friends and supporters and urged that his case continue to be investigated to prove, “I don’t belong on this gurney.”

As a lethal dose of the sedative pentobarbital began flowing, he began snoring. After the eighth snore, which was accompanied by a gasp, he stopped all movement. Twenty-one minutes after the drugs started, he was pronounced dead.

Mr. Cantu’s was the first execution in Texas this year and one of two scheduled Wednesday in the United States. Hours earlier, Idaho authorities halted the execution of serial killer Thomas Eugene Creech after a medical team repeatedly failed to find a vein to insert an IV line needed to administer a lethal injection. Mr. Creech was condemned for killing a fellow prisoner with a battery-filled sock in 1981.

The Texas execution proceeded hours after Mr. Cantu’s attorney, Gena Bunn, said she would not make a final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court for lack of “a viable path” for the high court’s consideration of the case.

Two lower courts on Tuesday denied Mr. Cantu’s request to intervene. And on Monday, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles voted 7–0 against commuting Mr. Cantu’s death sentence to a lesser penalty. Efforts to delay Mr. Cantu’s execution had received the support of faith leaders, celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and actor Martin Sheen, and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), and his brother, former U.S. Housing Secretary Julian Castro.

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

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

In a 2005 affidavit, Matthew Goeller, one of Mr. Cantu’s trial attorneys, said Mr. 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.

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

But Ms. Bunn alleged that Boettcher’s testimony was riddled with false statements.

The defense attorney also said new witness statements also helped confirm Mr. Cantu’s claim that a man who had supplied drugs to Mosqueda had threatened the cousin days before the killings.

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

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

The next execution in Texas, which has been the nation’s busiest capital punishment state, is not scheduled until June 26. Inmate James Harris Jr. had been scheduled for execution on March 13 until an appeals court issued a stay in his case last week.

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