Page last updated at 15:28 GMT, Wednesday, 22 September 2010 16:28 UK

Death row Briton's last hope for clemency

Death row Briton Linda Carty hopes for clemency

As Teresa Lewis is set to become the first woman to be executed in the US for five years, Briton Linda Carty continues to await the same fate for killing a young mother in Texas. Peter Marshall meets Carty, a St Kitts-born grandmother, and investigates why campaigners say her 2002 trial was flawed.

Since the death penalty was restored in Texas in 1982, the US state has put to death 462 people. Just three of them were women.

Next in line for the lethal injection in America's busiest execution chamber is British grandmother Linda Carty.

The 51-year-old, born in a former British colony in the Caribbean, stands convicted of the kidnap and murder of Joana Rodriguez - seized with her four-day-old son by three men involved in a drugs gang in May 2001.

The baby was later discovered unharmed in a car, but Ms Rodriguez was found suffocated with duct tape on her mouth and a plastic bag over her head.

Carty, convicted and sentenced to death in 2002 for ordering the crime, has always maintained her innocence. But after the US Supreme Court refused to review her case earlier this year, she is now facing execution.

'Revenge'

The former primary school teacher describes the eight years she has spent on death row in Gatesville, Texas, as "hellish".

"It's a nightmare. Basically it's a place you don't want to be - that no-one should be. Sometimes you hope you could just blink and it would all go away," she says.

Linda Carty
Linda Carty was born on St Kitts in the Caribbean

Carty, who migrated to the US from St Kitts with her infant daughter in the early '80s, has always argued it was her undercover work for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) that landed her on death row.

She believes she was framed by the three men involved in the crime when they discovered she was an informant.

"I knew too much and for me to survive out there would have brought the entire drug cartel down," she says.

Carty's legal team and British campaigners say there are many aspects of her case that are troubling, and argue she did not receive a fair trial.

They say evidence against her came from drug dealers and gunmen - people who may have had good reason to dislike her - and that her defence lawyer bungled the case, failing to call important witnesses and ignoring the chance of crucial support from the British government.

'Blown away'

Part of the prosecution's case against Carty was that she organised the kidnap because she desperately wanted a baby to pass off as her own to save her failing marriage - something Carty strenuously denies.

Michael Goldberg
The problem was her lawyer didn't ask any questions that could have helped Linda Carty. That's the whole key
Michael Goldberg
Carty's US lawyer

"Nobody investigated the fact that I was still fertile," she says.

Michael Goldberg, who has taken over as Carty's US lawyer, says he was "blown away" when he discovered what had happened to his client - especially when he heard the prosecution claims that Carty had planned to cut the unborn child out of Ms Rodriguez's womb.

"The state had this theory that she wanted the victim kidnapped because she was pregnant and she was going to cut open the stomach and take the baby out. It was just horrendous," Mr Goldberg says.

"But then we looked at the facts and the baby had already been born the week before. There was nothing to do with cutting open the stomach. That made no sense.

"It made great dramatic effect for the prosecution to sit in front of the jury with scissors and say this is what was going to happen but in reality it was drama which we believe was inappropriate."

Mr Goldberg explains how key witnesses were never spoken to by Carty's counsel. Most significant was an officer for the DEA who knew her well and was ready to testify that she was not a killer.

"The problem was her lawyer didn't ask any questions that could have helped Linda Carty. That's the whole key," Mr Goldberg says.

'Woeful' record

That court-appointed defence lawyer was Houston's Jerry Guerinot, whose record the British government has described as "woeful". Of 39 of his capital case clients, no fewer than 20 have ended up on death row. That's a record unequalled by any US prosecutor.

Mr Guerinot, who spoke to Carty for just 15 minutes before she went on trial for her life, has been accused of repeatedly failing his clients.

His office told Newsnight: "He's not making no comment." They added that they didn't know where or when he could be contacted.

However, the programme did track down the drug enforcement officer who acted as Carty's DEA handler - Charles Mathis, the man Carty's daughter, Jovelle, knew as Uncle Charlie, a close family friend.

Paul Lynch
The authorities and her defence lawyer had plenty of opportunities to identify her nationality and to tell us about it
Paul Lynch
British Consul General in Texas

Mr Mathis explains in an affidavit how Carty acted as a confidential informant for him and that he would have spoken in Carty's defence had he been asked.

"I got to know her very well," he says. "I would have testified that Linda... is not a violent person, let alone a cold-blooded murderer. I do not believe Linda is capable of killing another human being."

But most politically and perhaps legally explosive is the fact that Carty's British citizenship was never taken into account.

Paul Lynch, the British Consul General in Texas, explains that his office, and the UK government, heard about the case only after Carty's conviction.

Securing a retrial is now "the most important" part of his job, he says.

"The British government has a policy, wherever British nationals are either facing the death penalty or potentially facing the death penalty, of intervening.

"The authorities and her defence lawyer had plenty of opportunities to identify her nationality and to tell us about it. That's a terrible failure of the system."

Meanwhile, Carty awaits the setting of a date on which the state of Texas will put her to death.

She's praying for clemency from a Texas governor who has only once in more than 200 cases commuted a death sentence.

Watch Peter Marshall's report in full on Wednesday, 22 September 2010 at 2230 BST on BBC Two, then afterwards on the Newsnight website.



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