Linda Carty’s appeal rejected by US court; now close to execution

September 18, 2009

British grandmother Linda Carty was today told to prepare herself to die by lethal injection after her appeal to a federal court was denied.

The Fifth Circuit court in New Orleans conceded that Linda received inadequate defence at her trial, but refused to reverse the jury’s decision to execute her. The court had also refused to hear new evidence which Linda’s lawyers believe cast serious doubt on her conviction.

“I’m afraid our worst fears have now been realised for Linda,” said Reprieve’s Director Clive Stafford Smith. “Although she has recourse to the Supreme Court, experience suggests that she will soon be in the Texas execution chamber. Linda Carty has been tragically and disastrously failed by her defence lawyer at trial, and by the US legal system.”

In a disturbing judgment, the court admitted that Linda’s original trial lawyer failed to interview a critical witness, Linda’s common law husband, and thus “performed objectively unreasonably” in his duty to defend Linda.

Sentenced to death following a catastrophically flawed trial in Texas, Linda insists she was framed. Last week she appealed to the British people to help save her life; in a recorded message broadcast in Trafalgar Square, she begged for further investigation of her case, pleading “Please don’t let me die here”.

Linda will be killed by lethal injection, the controversial method that was botched this week when Ohio failed to kill Romell Brown after two hours of painful trying. According to witnesses, Romell tried to help his executioners by pointing out usable veins on his arm, but after two hours became extremely distressed and began to shake uncontrollably.

Linda’s lawyers will ask the Fifth Circuit to rehear their arguments. If that fails, they will apply to the Supreme Court, who consider only a handful of cases each year and are therefore extremely unlikely to save Linda from execution by the state of Texas.

Sally Rowen, Legal Director of Reprieve’s Death Penalty team said:

“If Texas go ahead with her execution, Linda will die because she had a bad lawyer, and because the British Government was not given the chance to help her at a time when it could have made a difference. Last week the British public listened to Linda from the Fourth Plinth, but the Fifth Circuit doesn’t seem to be listening at all.”

“Linda has been tragically unlucky in her experience of the US justice system, and her conviction must not stand. The British government and people must do everything in their power to prevent Linda’s death.”

More details on Linda’s disastrous case at www.reprieve.org.uk/lindacarty or below. For more information please contact Katherine O’Shea at Reprieve’s Press Office katherine.oshea@reprieve.org.uk 020 7427 1099/ 07931592674.

Notes for Editors:

CASE BACKGROUND

Linda Carty was convicted and sentenced to die by lethal injection for the 2001 murder of Joana Rodriguez. The crime took place on 16 May 2001, when three men broke into the apartment of Rodriguez and her partner Raymundo Cabrera, demanding drugs and cash. They abducted Rodriguez and her four-day-old son, Ray, who was later found unharmed in a car, while Rodriguez had suffocated. The perpetrators saved their own lives by laying the blame on Linda.

Linda was forced to rely on a local court-appointed lawyer, Jerry Guerinot, whose incompetence has already led to 20 of his clients ending up on death row, more than any other defence lawyer in the US. Guerinot’s catalogue of serious failings in Linda’s case includes:

* Failure to spot obvious flaws and inconsistencies in the prosecution case; * Failure to meet Linda until immediately before the trial; * Failure to interview witnesses; and failure to investigate key mitigating evidence; * Failure to inform Linda of her right to consular assistance; and * Failure to inform Linda’s common law husband of his right to spousal privilege * Failure to spot obvious flaws and inconsistencies in the prosecution case

The prosecution’s rather implausible theory was that Linda was afraid of losing her common-law husband and thought that if she had another baby he would stay. Unable to get pregnant, they allege she had hired three men to kidnap Rodriguez and that she planned to steal the child – a baby of a different race to Linda. The prosecution alleged that Linda had recently purchased ‘surgical scissors’ and was planning to cut the baby from the victim’s stomach. The victim had already given birth, however, and the scissors in question were not pointed surgical instruments at all, but blunt, rounded bandage cutters – they could not have been used to penetrate the skin, much less a person’s abdominal and uterine walls.

The failings in the prosecution’s case were obvious but Guerinot failed to carry out a meaningful investigation of his own and did not object when the prosecution produced the scissors at trial.

Failure to meet Linda until immediately before the trial

Despite the fact that Linda’s life was at stake, an investigator from Guerinot’s office spoke to Linda for the first time just a couple of weeks before her trial, and then only for 15 minutes. Guerinot himself did not meet with Linda until shortly before trial. According to Guerinot he tried to talk to Linda but she refused. Linda, on the other hand, says she tried to get in touch with him numerous times but that he refused to accept her calls. Guerinot claims that Linda finally talked to him after bribing her with a chocolate bar but this claim is absurd; Linda is allergic to chocolate.

Failure to interview witnesses; and failure to investigate key mitigating evidence

Linda was born on 5 October 1958 on the Caribbean island of St Kitts to Anguillan parents and holds a UK dependant territory passport. She worked as a primary school teacher in St Kitts until she was 23 years old. Guerinot was awarded funds by the court to carry out investigation there but he never bothered to go. After Linda’s conviction, investigators from Reprieve visited St Kitts and learnt that she was still remembered as a passionate teacher who frequently held extra classes for children with special needs. She also taught at Sunday school, sang in a national youth choir and led a volunteer social-work group.

This information would have enabled Guerinot to present her to the jurors as a dedicated teacher and community leader – factors that might well have induced them to vote to spare her life.

By the time the Carty family emigrated to the US in 1982, Linda had a daughter Jovelle, then two (born 10 September 1979). Shortly after Jovelle was born, Jovelle’s father emigrated to New York, leaving Linda to care for the child alone. A year after Linda moved to Houston her cousin Harriet died suddenly. Linda and Harriet were very close and Linda was devastated.

During the 80s, Linda had begun to work as a confidential informant for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), befriending suspected traffickers in order to get information and sometimes to make test purchases of drugs. Linda has always asserted her innocence, and believes that she was framed because of her work with the DEA.

In 1988 Linda was raped in a University of Houston car park. The rape resulted in a pregnancy and Linda gave birth to a baby girl (born 23 June 1989) who was given up for adoption. Linda felt a deep sense of shame and concealed the rape and the pregnancy from her family. Two months prior to giving birth, Linda’s beloved father died, Linda was distraught. Later, she found herself in an abusive relationship and was a victim of domestic violence.

Failure to inform Linda of her right to consular assistance

Under the Vienna Convention on the Right to Consular Assistance and a bilateral treaty between the UK and the US the US has undertaken an obligation to the UK to notify British consular officials whenever a British national is detained and notify the national of their right to consular assistance. The British consulate was not informed that Linda had been arrested and was being charged with capital murder, neither was Linda informed of this right to consular assistance. Guerinot knew that Linda was from St Kitts and was not a US citizen but did not raise the failure to notify Linda of her rights nor of the failure to alert the consulates. The British government has filed an amicus brief before the Court arguing that had they been notified of Linda’s arrest they would have:

* Assisted in obtaining meaningful and effective legal representation by consulting Reprieve at an early stage; * Monitored proceedings; * Attempted to persuade prosecutors not to seek the death penalty.

Indeed at the time of Linda’s arrest the Foreign and Commonwealth Office was already working closely with Reprieve. After Linda’s conviction Reprieve has gathered significant mitigation evidence in Linda’s case and Reprieve believes that had this evidence been presented at trial she would never have been sentenced to death.

Failure to inform Linda’s common law husband of his right to spousal privilege

Guerinot never spoke to Linda’s common-law husband, Jose Corona. Corona was called as a witness by the Prosecution. It was never explained to him that there is a marital privilege and under that privilege he had the right to refuse to testify. Had Guerinot informed him, Corona would never have testified. Moreover, Guerinot’s failure to interview Corona prevented the jury from hearing any of the powerful mitigation evidence he had to offer; had he been asked he would have testified: “I do not believe that she is an aggressive person or a threat to society.”

The death penalty in Texas

Linda is one of 10 women on death row in Texas. She is incarcerated at Mountain View Unit. The last woman to be executed in Texas was Frances Newton (14 September 2005), she was the first black woman to be put to death in the United States since the Civil War. The last British woman to be executed was Ruth Ellis who was hanged at Holloway Prison on 13 July 1955. Since executions were resumed in the US in 1977 after a 5 year moratorium 11 women have been executed, 3 of them in Texas.

Capital punishment in Texas has come under scrutiny in the last week since it emerged that an innocent man may have been executed. Cameron Todd Willingham was executed in 2004 for the murder by arson of his three young children but it has since been established that the forensic evidence of arson presented at trial had no scientific basis and should not have led to Willingham’s conviction. Willingham’s lawyers did no independent investigation into how the fire started.

REPRIEVE

Reprieve, a legal action charity, uses the law to enforce the human rights of prisoners, from death row to Guantánamo Bay. Reprieve investigates, litigates and educates, working on the frontline, to provide legal support to prisoners unable to pay for it themselves. Reprieve promotes the rule of law around the world, securing each person’s right to a fair trial and saving lives. Clive Stafford Smith is the founder of Reprieve and has spent 25 years working on behalf of people facing the death penalty in the USA.

Reprieve’s current casework involves representing 33 prisoners in the US prison at Guantánamo Bay, working on behalf of prisoners facing the death penalty, and conducting ongoing investigations into the rendition and the secret detention of ‘ghost prisoners’ in the so-called ‘war on terror.’

Reprieve
PO Box 52742
London EC4P 4WS
Tel: 020 7353 4640
Fax: 020 7353 4641
Email: info@reprieve.org.uk
Website: www.reprieve.org.uk

Reprieve is a charitable company limited by guarantee; Registered Charity No. 1114900, Registered Company No. 5777831 (England)
Registered Office: 2-6 Cannon Street, London EC4M 6YH;
Chair: Lord Bingham; Patrons: Alan Bennett, Julie Christie, Martha Lane Fox, Gordon Roddick, Jon Snow, Marina Warner