THE PHANTOM (2021, doc)

Greetings again from the darkness. Will the real murdering Carlos please come forward? Unfortunately it’s too late for the other one. Store clerk Wanda Lopez was murdered in Corpus Christi, Texas one night in 1983. The recording of her 911 call is brief, but documents her identifying the assailant as Hispanic, and noting that he was brandishing a knife … the knife the man would use to take her life.

After a short manhunt, the Corpus Christi police found a shirtless 21 year old Carlos DeLuna hiding under a car. He was identified by eye witnesses and immediately arrested on suspicion of murder. From the beginning, DeLuna was adamant about his innocence and claimed he knew the actual murderer, Carlos Hernandez, DeLuna’s doppelganger.

Patrick Forbes is a documentarian whose previous topics included Brexit, the human heart, and WikiLeaks. This time he walks us through the steps of a criminal system that executed the wrong man. He uses interviews, archival footage, and documentation from the police reports and trial. We hear from the District Attorney, the defense attorney, Wanda Lopez’s attorney, and the eyewitnesses. The original Medical Examiner (ME) even reads aloud from his report. Forbes presents the facts of the case so that we understand how such a travesty occurred.

The evidence that convicted Carlos DeLuna was limited to the eyewitnesses and a wad of cash in his pocket. No fingerprints. No blood on his clothes. No DNA. Somehow this was enough to not just find him guilty, but also sentence him to death. DeLuna testified at his own trial and claimed under oath it was Carlos Hernandez – a man the Corpus Christi police were unable to find, despite his significant (and violent) criminal record.

We hear from the reporter who received correspondence from DeLuna while he was incarcerated. She recounts their exchanges and notes that she was a somewhat green reporter who had no real idea how to handle this. We also hear from the Chaplain who details the issues that occurred during the execution, and from DeLuna’s estranged brother who tried to assist. Mr. Forbes is efficient and precise in the structure of the documentary based on the Columbia Law School research paper, “Los Tocayos Carlos”. Is the criminal justice flawed or outright broken – for those wrongfully accused and convicted, the answer is simple.

Opening in theaters on July 2, 2021


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