On January 31, 1998, 19-year-old Pedro Vasquez was fatally shot by a gunman in a passing car outside the Extravaganza nightclub in Houston, Texas.
Witnesses identified 20-year-old Jesse Talamantez as the gunman. Three witnesses said Talamantez had been in the nightclub with friends who got into an altercation with Vasquez and some of his friends. Two women identified Talamantez as the shooter.
Talamantez was arrested and charged with murder. He went on trial in May 1999 in Harris County Criminal District Court. The two women told the jury that Talamantez was the gunman. They said the gunman had a tattoo on his chest and was wearing a white muscle shirt. The three witnesses from the nightclub said they saw Talamantez there and that he left prior to the shooting.
Talamantez was convicted on May 5, 1999 and sentenced to 99 years in prison. On appeal, Talamantez contended his defense lawyer had provided an inadequate legal defense by failing to interview witnesses who would have testified that Talamantez was not in the nightclub the night of the murder.
Further, Talamantez claimed his lawyer had failed to call witnesses who would have testified that Talamantez did not have a tattoo on his chest and did not own a white muscle shirt. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals turned down the appeal and upheld the conviction in 2000.
Attorneys Randy and Josh Schaffer filed a state petition for a writ of habeas corpus alleging further inadequate legal assistance because Talamantez’s trial lawyer had failed to impeach the eyewitnesses with their initial statements to police that they were not able to identify the shooter.
In May 2002, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agreed and set aside Talamantez’s conviction and sentence.
Talamantez went on trial for a second time in the spring of 2004. His attorneys undermined the identifications of the witnesses using their inconsistent statements to police and also created a videotape which showed the jury that the women were at least 50 feet from Vasquez when he was shot and were in a vantage point that made it difficult to see the shooter inside a moving car.
On May 26, 2004, the jury acquitted Talamantez and he was released.
– Maurice Possley
The National Registry of Exonerations is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. It was founded in 2012 in conjunction with the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law. The Registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989—cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence. The Registry also maintains a more limited database of known exonerations prior to 1989.
We welcome new information from any source about exonerations already on our list and about cases not in the Registry that might be exonerations.