It took the better part of two decades and a death row confession, but Texas' highest criminal court found Quintin Lee Alonzo actually innocent of a 2001 murder Monday, opening the door to restitution and the rest of Alonzo's life.
A Dallas County jury convicted Alonzo of murder and two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in February 2003. Prosecutors at his trial accused Alonzo of killing 18-year-old Santos Gauna and Gauna's parents at a 2001 party held to commemorate Gauna's high school graduation and enlistment in the Marine Corps.
Despite originally suspecting another man of killing Gauna, police arrested Alonzo after a witness identified him in a photo lineup.
The man police initially wanted for the murder, Licho Escamilla, fled to Mexico after the shooting. Several months after the shooting, he reentered the United States. He committed two murders in November 2001, killing a 26-year-old man in West Dallas, and 34-year-old Kevin James, an off-duty Dallas cop. James was working a security job at a local nightclub when he was killed.
Escamilla got the death penalty for killing James, leading to Alonzo's exoneration.
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“The day before Escamilla’s execution in 2015, he confessed to the Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU) of the Criminal District Attorney’s Office to murdering Santos Gauna and shooting his parents. The CIU independently set out on an exhaustive investigation to corroborate his confession,” CIU Chief Cynthia Garza said Monday. “That thorough investigation led to the recommendation that Alonzo’s case be vacated on actual innocence grounds."
A Dallas County trial court found Alonzo actually innocent of the murder in May 2018 and released him on bond. Being found "actually innocent" is one of the requirements imposed by Texas on those who seek compensation for the time they spent in prison after being wrongfully convicted. The state pays eligible exonerees $80,000 for each year they spent in prison in a lump sum in addition to annual annuity payments.
Alonzo is the second Dallas County man exonerated by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals this year. Steven Mark Chaney was found actually innocent in January after serving more than 25 years on a murder conviction based on now-discredited bite-mark evidence.