Review of The Phantom Written & Directed by Patrick Forbes
Every now and then a film or documentary comes around that I categorize as a “must-see.” This is one of those films. The Phantom starts out slow, There are some dramatic recreations that don’t quite work, such as when Prosecutor Ken Botary and Defense Attorney James Lawrence read from their trial transcripts in an empty courtroom. The film also could have used a musical soundtrack, which is mostly absent. Besides those minor complaints, once you see where this story is headed you won’t be able to look away.
Fair warning! This review does contain a spoiler. If you would rather discover this film for yourself, then stop right here and come back after you have seen it.
The Phantom tells the story of a convenience store robbery and the killing of the female clerk Wanda Lopez. It turns into something much more compelling than your typical true crime story. Director Patrick Forbes takes viewers on an emotional journey involving the justice system and the death penalty.
Carlos DeLuna is arreested for the crime. From the beginning, he professes his innocence. But Carlos had a difficult childhood. He lost his father at a young age. He was abused by a stepdad. He is poor and uneducated. He is also of Mexican heritage. You could say that the cards were stacked against Carlos.
We don’t get to see the trial where Carlos was ultimately convicted of murder and sentenced to death. But we do get to see Carlos as he might have appeared if he just had one or two things go in his favor. It’s a short video of Carlos taken of him as he walks with a prison guard. The video is shot by a young news reporter from behind a locked door with a small window. Carlos is wearing a suit and tie. He looks more like a defense attorney than a defendant.
Carlos had always maintained that he was not involved in the crime but instead was a witness. He provides a name to the police – Carlos Hernandes. There is an attempt to locate this Carlos Hernandes, but police, the prosecutor, and Carlos’s public defender all come up empty-handed, thus the name The Phantom.
Carlos develops a bond with the young Corpus Christi reporter Karen Boudrie. She begins to see Carlos as a human being instead of the monster portrayed by the prosecution. That’s when things take a turn for the worse. Carlos exhausts his appeals. Before he is executed, he calls his friend Karen Boudrie one last time and tells her that he is scared.
The story could have ended there, with Carlos’s guilt or innocence an open question. But director Patrick Forbes, along with the help of a college law professor and his students, locate friends and family of Carlos Hernandes. Carlos Hernandes not only exists, but he has a long criminal history. He spent time in prison for stabbing a woman. There are interviews with people who claim that Carlos confessed to Wanda’s killing.
Proponents of the death penalty always say that there is no credible evidence that an innocent person has ever been executed. When you consider the number of people on death row who have been exonerated before they could be put to death, it’s hard to stand by that claim. In this case, the State of Texas executed an innocent man. NO amount of apologizing can make up for that mistake.
What about the people who put Carlos on trial? What does his defense attorney have to say? Let’s just say that no one steps up and takes responsibility.