In 1979, Border Patrol agents found taxicab driver Nicholas Castanon’s body in his cab about a mile from the border in El Paso. El Paso Police arrested for the murder. One of the suspects was a teenager. He told police that Cesar had shot and killed Castanon.
When Cesar was arrested, Mexican police also arrested his mother. He was told that his parents would be tortured unless he confessed. Cesar immediately recanted his confession. Cesar was not allowed legal representation from the Mexican Consulate as required by international law. The next day, Cesar recanted his confession. Once Cesar was arrested, the two original suspects were released.
No physical evidence of any kind connected César to the murder. The only other evidence connecting César to the murder was a teenage suspect whose testimony was inconsistent throughout the trial. César was convicted and sentenced to death. He was only 23.
Texas state courts later found that Cesare had been truthful about his forced confession. The El Paso police detective investigating the murder had conspired with police officers in Juarez Mexico had forced him to make the statement. El Paso police admitted that they and Juarez police regularly “cooperated” with each other. The lead trial prosecutor later stated that he would have moved to dismiss the case had he known about the forced confession.
All of Cesar’s appeals were rejected. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals found that the false confession was a “harmless error” a legal term meaning that a fact is mistaken, it does not meet the burden to reverse the original decision.
Cesar was on death row for almost 40 years, most of that time in solitary confinement. Cesar had been scheduled for execution on at least fourteen separate times. He came within days of execution before receiving court-ordered stays on six different occasions. During Fierro's decades on death row, his mother had died, his brother had died, his wife had divorced him, and his daughter had stopped visiting him. Cesar Fierro’s mental health has deteriorated.
Finally, after many legal battles, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals reversed Fierro’s sentence because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling which requires that jurors must be provided with all mitigating evidence during the punishment phase of death penalty trials. Cesar Fierro was re-sentenced to life in prison at the age of 63 after four decades in prison. Cesar’s sentence was vacated in December 2019.
Prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty again. In March 2020, Cesar was granted parole, and he was deported to his home country of Mexico, where he resides today. While the system spared his life and gave him back his freedom, it failed to recognize his innocence. No compensation of any kind was provided despite Cesar's wrongful conviction.