Texas set to execute Ivan Cantu for Dallas murders as doubts of his guilt persist

DALLAS (TEXAS TRIBUNE) – Texas is scheduled to execute Ivan Cantu on Wednesday for the murder of his cousin and his cousin’s fiancée, James Mosqueda and Amy Kitchen. In recent years, post-trial evidence raising questions about Cantu’s guilt has persuaded jurors from his original trial to ask Texas courts to reconsider his case.

A public campaign pushing to pause the execution has won the support of thousands of Texans, celebrities and faith leaders who are calling for a closer look at the case in light of recanted testimony from a key witness and claims that another witness lied on the stand.

But as of Wednesday morning, Cantu effectively ran out of remaining legal options. The Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles unanimously denied Cantu’s clemency application on Monday. On Tuesday, both the state’s highest criminal court and the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied his last minute requests to stay the execution.

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In 2001, a jury sentenced Cantu to death for the murder of Mosqueda and Kitchen, who were shot in Dallas in November 2000. Kitchen was a nursing student at the time of her murder.

Prosecutors pointed to bloody clothing found in Cantu’s trash can, stolen jewelry and the testimony from Cantu’s financée, Amy Boettcher, and her brother, Jeff Boettcher, to build a case against the defendant. Jeff Calhoun, the jury foreman in the 2001 trial, said their testimony was the most compelling evidence supporting Cantu’s guilt.

“I sat there and listened to the story play out for a month,” he said in an interview with The Texas Tribune this week. “I made a decision and signed a document that said, ‘Yes, the death penalty is in order here.’”

But decades later, Calhoun had decided that Cantu’s case should be reconsidered after he learned Jeff Boettcher had lied to him and the other jurors.

Amy Boettcher, Cantu’s fiancée at the time of the murders, was a crucial witness in the state’s case. She said that she disposed of bloody jeans in a trash can inside Cantu’s kitchen that he wore when shooting Mosqueda and Kitchen.

A police officer who inspected Cantu’s apartment shortly after the murders signed a sworn affidavit in 2020 that she did not believe that the bloody jeans were in the apartment when she went to check on him at the request of Cantu’s concerned mother. The jeans were too big for Cantu and tests did not find conclusive evidence of his DNA on the pants. All of which, Cantu’s legal team said, indicates that he was framed for the crime.

Amy Boettcher also testified that Cantu threw a Rolex watch belonging to Mosqueda out of a car window as the couple was driving to downtown Dallas to a club shortly after the murders.

Cantu’s legal team learned in 2019 that officers recovered the Rolex watch after finding it in Mosqueda’s home and returned it to his family shortly after the murder.

In recent state court filings, Cantu’s legal team argued that the Collin County District Attorney’s office knowingly withheld this evidence, suggesting that Amy Boettcher was willing to give false evidence under oath to assist the state’s case.

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After Amy Boettcher died in 2021, her brother, Jeff Boettcher, called investigators with the Collin County District Attorney office to recant parts of his testimony. Jeff Boettcher said he lied about Cantu recruiting him to clean up after the murders to protect his sister. He admitted to being a frequent drug user at the time of the trial and that his testimony wasn’t reliable.

New doubts about the Boettchers’ testimony were enough for a Republican state district judge to withdraw his court order for Cantu’s execution in April last year. The Court of Criminal Appeals denied Cantu’s appeal four months later.

Cantu’s legal team has filed additional appeals with the state’s highest criminal court, alleging that the state was aware of Amy Boettcher’s false testimony but relied on her nonetheless. On Tuesday, the Court of Criminal Appeals denied Cantu’s request to stay his execution and an application to allow a court to rule on the new evidence.

So far, calls to look at Cantu’s case again have gone unanswered. Advocates working on Cantu’s behalf collected over 140,000 signatures to demand Collin County District Attorney Greg Willis request to withdraw the execution date.

“There was not fairness at this trial. All we’re asking is [to] delay the execution of Ivan Cantu long enough to be able to have a hearing and an inquiry into the new evidence that’s been presented,” Sister Helen Prejean, a leading anti-death penalty advocate who is serving as Cantu’s spiritual adviser, said in a press call earlier this month.

Other public figures who have called to pause the execution include media personality Kim Kardashian, and the actors Martin Sheen and Jane Fonda. Public figures have called on Gov. Greg Abbott, a staunch supporter of the death penalty, to stay Cantu’s execution.

Two other jurors, in addition to Calhoun, have also asked for Cantu to receive another trial.

“By no means am I protesting the death penalty, by no means am I protesting our judicial system and I’m certainly not protesting Governor Abbott,” Calhoun said, adamantly affirming his support for the governor. “I’m simply asking that this be looked at a little deeper before the unripened fruit is taken off the tree.”

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