Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturns death sentence of Cesar Fierro, nearly 40 years after his conviction

On December 18, 2019, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (CCA) overturned the death sentence of Cesar Fierro, who has spent nearly 40 years on death row. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1980 by an El Paso jury for the shooting death of Nicolas Castanon, a crime he claims he did not commit. No physical evidence connected him to the crime.

The CCA reversed Fierro’s sentence in light of Penry v. Lynaugh (1989), a U.S. Supreme Court case that established jurors must be given the opportunity to fully consider all mitigating evidence during the punishment phase of death penalty trials. Fierro’s jury was asked if they believed Fierro deliberately killed Castanon and if he would be a future danger to society. They were never told to consider any mitigating evidence, such as his troubled childhood, past substance abuse, or religious devotions.

According to the El Paso Times, the appeal that led the Texas Court of Criminal Appeal to reverse Fierro’s sentence on December 18 was originally dismissed by the same court back in 1990.

In response to the CCA’s ruling, the El Paso County District Attorney, Jaime Esparza, announced his office will not seek another death sentence. Fierro will be resentenced to life in prison.

Now 63 years old, he was one of the state’s longest-serving inmates on death row. Only four people still on death row have been there longer than Fierro.

Learn more from the Texas Tribune and the El Paso Times. Watch the trailer for a documentary film about Cesar, “The Years of Fierro.”