Tribeca 2021: ‘The Phantom”

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The justice system was created to defend victims of crime, lock up bad guys and clear the streets from criminals. But over the decades, it appears that the system has developed lots of loopholes, gaps and an easy way out for blue-collar criminals. However, it is a dead end for those who cannot afford a fancy lawyer. And when that happens, saying to hope for the best is something that can hardly be applied in this situation.

Carlos De Luna was hanging out with the wrong guys. He would steal money from his own mother, become aggressive and unapproachable. He had a criminal history and was on the police radar. Whether he had a better shot in life or not, we don’t know and will never do. And that prospect was taken away from him on a cold and dark February night in 1983, when a young single mother, Wanda Lopez, was viciously stabbed to death at her workplace, a Corpus Christi Texas gas station.

After a massive manhunt, Carlos De Luna, at that time 21 years old, was caught by the police with the help of a witness, and despite minimum evidence, was sent to death row. The man claimed he saw Wanda Lopez being killed by Carlow, but with the last name Hernandez. His lawyer and police could not identify the man they believed was a phantom. They were sure Carlos De Luna made up a fiction man to avoid jail time. He even refused to cut a deal with the prosecutor for life in prison instead of execution. Carlos was too naïve to expect a different outcome from the trial he was never meant to come out victorious. But when the day came for his execution, Texas readily fulfilled its duty not realizing they executed an innocent man.

Written and directed by Patrick Forbes, “The Phantom” is a brilliant documentary film that cleverly unveils the faults of the justice system in America and how it considers defendants such as Carlos De Luna as disposable. Not only that, it evidently shows that in America more people of color were incarcerated and sent to jail for crimes the prosecutors did not bother to investigate properly. As for this story, it’s not the first time when the justice system captured the wrong guy. But this guy, apart from many, could not live long enough to prove his innocence.

As you watch “The Phantom”, there are many thoughts that will come to your mind. One of them is the realization of the importance of bringing justice to the victims by arresting criminals. But who will arrest the justice system for incarcerating and executing a wrong man? When will the double standards end? So yes, Wanda Lopez can rest in peace knowing that justice was served in her case. But how about Carlos De Luna, who was just a scapegoat in a larger game? He, sadly, was just a toy used by the system to punish him, even though somewhere deep down they knew he was innocent.

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