Texas scheduled to execute Ivan Cantu despite new evidence, recantation of witnesses

On February 28, Ivan Cantu, who has maintained his innocence for over two decades, is scheduled to become the 587th person put to death by the Texas killing machine since capital punishment was reinstated in 1976.

Cantu was convicted of killing his cousin and his fiancée in 2001. In recent years, calls to halt his execution have grown louder as evidence has emerged that puts his guilt into question. Even two of the jurors, who originally voted to convict him, now support his appeals.

An open-and-shut case or a frame-up with inadequate defense?

As with so many death row cases, Cantu’s conviction decades ago was initially presented as airtight — until the details started to emerge that contradicted the narrative. Did prosecutors, who build their careers on getting convictions at any cost, coax out the story they wanted to hear at the expense of the truth?

For the past 23 years, Ivan Cantu, now 49-year-old, has been languishing on death row, convicted of the November 2000 killing of his cousin, James Mosqueda, and his cousin’s fiancée, Amy Kitchen, in their North Dallas home. Prosecutors claimed that Mosqueda and Kitchen were shot to death by Cantu in a robbery. Cantu claims that Mosqueda, a known drug dealer, and his fiancée were killed by a rival drug dealer who then framed him for the murders.

Prosecutors used forensic evidence and testimony from two witnesses to make their case. They pointed to the fact that Mosqueda’s car was located at Ivan Cantu’s apartment the day after the couple was murdered. Police found a pair of bloody jeans and socks in Cantu’s trash can days after the murders while he was out of town that matched the victims’ DNA, and the gun used in the shootings was located at Cantu’s friend’s house with his fingerprints on the magazine. Cantu’s fiancée at the time pinned the murders on him, and her brother claimed Cantu had discussed killing Mosqueda with him beforehand. While Cantu continued to maintain his innocence, the prosecution presented this as an open-and-shut case.

Nearly 20 years after the killings, Cantu’s claims of innocence received new life when private investigator Matt Duff began looking into the case in 2019. Duff discovered many flaws and asserted that Cantu was misrepresented by his own defense team. He compiled his investigation into a 40 episode podcast called Cousins By Blood, which makes a compelling case that the man condemned to die may very well be put to death for a crime he did not commit. Much of this reporting has since been corroborated by an investigative journalist at the Texas Observer, among other sources.

Cantu insists that his cousin and fiancée were killed by a rival drug dealer to whom he owed money. In a phone call with one of Mosqueda’s associates shortly after the killings, Cantu stated he’d been threatened at his apartment by a man looking for Mosqueda. Cantu said he told Mosqueda there was a man looking for him, and they made the decision to switch cars to give the appearance that Mosqueda wasn’t home.

The physical evidence does not hold up to scrutiny. The bloody jeans and socks that were found in Cantu’s trash were apparently not there at the time of the murders, according to a police officer who was at Cantu’s apartment conducting a welfare check. The jeans weren’t discovered until three days later when Cantu was out of town. They were “two sizes larger than what Cantu wore at the time,” and recent DNA tests were unable to establish that he was the one who wore them.

Cantu’s lawyers also pointed out that a call had been made from inside his apartment while he was away in Arkansas, indicating someone else was in his home. They also point out that while Cantu’s fingerprints were on the magazines in the gun used to kill the couple, they were not on the murder weapon itself.

To convict Cantu, the prosecution relied heavily on their star witness, Cantu’s then-fiancée Amy Boettcher. After Cantu’s arrest in 2000, Boettcher told police that Cantu committed the murders. She then testified under oath that when she saw Cantu that night, his face was swollen or bruised, something that no one else who saw him that night mentioned. She also claimed that he’d stolen Mosqueda’s Rolex watch and she’d watched him throw it out their car window. In reality, the watch was later found by a relative of Amy Kitchen to have been at Mosqueda’s house all along: it was never stolen at all. Boettcher claimed that Cantu had stolen a diamond engagement ring from Kitchen’s body and used it to propose to her. Witnesses testified that Boettcher had shown them the same ring a week before the murders occurred. Cantu’s lawyers argue she committed perjury.

Boettcher wasn’t the only supposed witness the state relied on to make their case. Jeff Boettcher, Amy’s brother, testified under oath that Cantu had told him before the killings that he was going to kill Mosqueda and Kitchen. He claimed to have seen Cantu with the murder weapon and that he’d asked Jeff to help him “clean up.” After Amy Boettcher died in 2021, however, Jeff Boettcher completely changed his story. After more than two decades, the supposed witness contacted the Collins County District Attorney’s office to clear his conscience, recanting his entire testimony.

At every stage of the legal process, Cantu has received insulting and inadequate representation. Like the majority of defendants facing the death penalty, Cantu couldn’t afford a lawyer. His public defender requested no experts to make his case during the trial, called zero witnesses, and decided against presenting any exculpatory evidence. Of the people who were on the state witness list prior to the murder trial, Cantu’s defense did not interview a single one. Duff also found that the investigating officers improperly coached witnesses and withheld evidence. During the closing arguments, one of Cantu’s defense attorneys even claimed that his own client was guilty: “I didn’t say he was innocent. I said he’s not guilty of capital murder.”

Time is running out: Stop this senseless execution!

Ivan Cantu’s new execution date is fast approaching. Governor Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles are being urged by anti-death penalty advocates to do everything in their power to stop the execution. Texas governors have acted to halt executions just three times since 1976, but there are instances in recent history where executions have been halted. When Rodney Reed was scheduled to be executed in 2019, a worldwide movement resulted in a stay of execution. In 2022, international outrage led to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals issuing a stay for Melissa Lucio. Only mass action from the people can put pressure on the state of Texas to stop this senseless execution of Ivan Cantu, who never got a fair trial!

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