Death in Texas

Execution looms for grandmother who lawyers say faced “flawed” trial.

Linda Carty’s Trafalgar Square audio message was the last throw of the dice by campaigners [EPA] 

“Please don’t allow them to kill me for a crime that I know I did not commit.” 

These are the words of Linda Carty, a British grandmother sentenced to death in 2001 for the kidnap and murder of a young mother in Texas.

They were spoken in a recorded message broadcast to London’s Trafalgar Square in September. It was the last throw of the dice for Carty’s legal team, a publicity stunt designed to raise awareness of her plight in the hope that the UK might ask for her sentence to be commuted.

It made no difference. Her appeal was rejected a week later and she was told to prepare to die. Her legal team say she faced a “catastrophically flawed” trial, and warn that Texas is about to execute a woman whose guilt is far from certain.  

Their account of Carty’s experience highlights the machinations of a judicial system that has executed four times more people than any other US state over the past 35 years.

Carty’s lawyers say that the odds were stacked against her from the moment of her arrest. Unable to afford her own defence, she was assigned a lawyer by the state court. Her current legal team accuses him of failure to perform even the most basic duties of a criminal defence lawyer.

They say he neglected to collect key mitigating evidence, did not challenge what they describe as “obvious flaws and inconsistencies” in the prosecution’s case, and failed to inform British officials of his client’s nationality.

They also point out that 20 of his previous clients had been sentenced to death – hardly reassuring statistics for a defendant on a capital charge. In the legal challenges that followed Carty’s conviction, even the appeals court acknowledged that her defence lawyer had “performed objectively unreasonably”.

Her appeal was rejected nevertheless.

Failure to report arrest

Carty’s lawyers believe that had British officials been made aware of her case before the trial, she may have never been sentenced to death.   

The US is bound under international treaties to inform foreign countries when their citizens are arrested. But this may not always happen in Texas, leaving foreign prisoners cut off from the consular aid to which they are entitled.  

The oversight should have been picked up by her defence lawyer, but never was. 

Death Penalty in figures 

– In 2008 at least 2390 people were executed in 25 countries.

-During the same period, at least 8864 people were sentenced to death

– 93% of executions were carried out in five countries: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United States of America

139 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practise.

58 countries still impose the death penalty, with an average of three countries a year over the past decade moving to abolish the punishment.

Source: Amnesty International

Carty’s case is not the first in which the state has failed to report the arrest to the relevant consular authorities; another case of its type caused a bitterly contested international dispute.

In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that the execution of a Mexican man called Jose Ernesto Medellin in Texas should be postponed, because the state had failed to inform Mexican authorities of his arrest and he had been denied his consular rights.

The court ordered a review of his conviction for the rape and murder of two teenage girls, as well as of other convictions of Mexicans on death row in the state; the Bush administration called for Texas to comply with the ruling. 

The review never happened. Texas fought the order in the Supreme Court and won. Medellin was executed in 2008, with a spokesman for Texas’s governor Rick Perry, who in June signed off on his 200th execution warrant, claiming that “the world court has no standing in Texas.”

Like the Mexicans in the Medellin case, British officials were not informed that Carty had been arrested until after she had been sentenced to death.

Had they been informed, her current legal team say she would have had a different defence lawyer,who may have discovered some of the evidence they have collected since her conviction.

“We were informed of Linda’s case too late to introduce the new evidence we uncovered into the US legal system,” says Sally Rowen, director of death penalty cases at legal charity Reprieve, which has been working on Carty’s case.  

Ignoring evidence

Because her legal team inherited the case after her conviction, they pinned their hopes on the new evidence being taken into account during the appeal process. But a glance at the figures told them they were facing an uphill battle. 

Texas tops the table in the number of death sentences handed down, and number of executions carried out. But the number of death sentences Texas overturns is proportionally much lower than that of other states.

Since 1976, 441 people have been executed in Texas. Just 10 people have had their death sentences reversed. During the same period, Florida executed just 68 people – but released 20 people from death row.  

The implications of these figures have recently been brought into focus by fresh doubts over the guilt of Cameron Willingham, a death row inmate whose controversial execution in 2004 has raised serious concerns about the fallibility of the system.  

Carty could end up in a Texas death chamber very soon, her lawyers say [GETTY]

Willingham had been convicted of killing his three children after investigators determined that he had deliberately started lethal blaze in his home.

He maintained his innocence throughout the process, even refusing a plea bargain that would have seen him sentenced to life in prison.

In the months before his execution, serious doubts began to emerge over the safety of his conviction.

When a top fire expert delivered a report to Texas authorities stating that evidence suggested the fire had been an accident, Willingham saw a glimmer of hope.

But a month later he was dead. Authorities had rejected the new evidence and proceeded with the execution regardless of the doubts of forensic arson experts.

In August this year, a report found that the forensic approach of the investigator upon whose evidence Willingham was convicted seemed to deny “rational reasoning.”

Authorities in Carty’s case have also refused to hear the new evidence gathered after her conviction. They concede she was inadequately defended at her trial, but say this is inadequate grounds for a successful appeal.   

Losing hope

Carty’s lawyers say they will ask the appeals court to re-hear their arguments. If that fails, they will turn to the US Supreme Court. But they admit that the chances of the court agreeing to hear the case are “extremely small.”

Even if the court did hear the case, she is unlikely to find much sympathy there. A recent legal opinion from Supreme Court Judge Antonin Scalia effectively condones the execution of innocent people, provided the trial has been “fair.”  

“It’s incredibly serious now”

Sally Rowen, Reprieve

“This court has never held that the [US] Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a court that he is ‘actually’ innocent,” he said, sparking controversy.

Those involved in the case are losing hope of a positive outcome. “It’s time to panic,” Rowen says. “It’s incredibly serious now. Her best hope is clemency from the state governor.”

With the official legal process almost at an end, Carty insists she has been failed by the system.

“I have begged for justice and a fair hearing here in the United States,” she said in her prerecorded message. “But I am afraid that by the time people find out the truth, it will be too late.”

Andrew Wander, a media fellow with legal charity Reprieve, works on Al Jazeera’s Public Liberties and Human Rights Desk. 

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