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Witnesses Against a British Grandmother on Death Row Say Texas Prosecutors Blackmailed Them Into Testimony

The 2002 conviction of Linda Carty for killing a neighbor to steal her baby has long been protested by campaigners and the British government.

by Jenna Corderoy
Feb 17 2015, 12:19pm

Image via AP

Key witnesses against a British grandmother on death row in Texas have claimed that prosecutors in her 2002 trial intimidated, threatened, and blackmailed them into testifying against her, raising serious questions about a conviction which has been long protested by campaigners and the UK government. 

Linda Carty was convicted for the kidnap and murder of her 25-year-old neighbor Joana Rodriguez, who was abducted along with her four-day-old son by three men in May 2001. The baby was found alive, yet Rodriguez was found suffocated in the boot of a car. It was claimed during the trial that Carty had hired the gang of men to steal the child so that she could raise him as her own. According to the Houston Chronicle, the three men who abducted Rodriguez and her child all had criminal records, but only Carty was prosecuted for capital murder.

Carty, now 56, has been on death row ever since. The US Supreme Court refused her appeal in May 2010.

Carty has always maintained her innocence, and campaign groups, as well as the British government, have highlighted serious flaws in her trial. According to human rights organization Reprieve, Carty was forced to accept a court-appointed lawyer, Gerald Guerinot, whose poor professional reputation has been covered in detail by the New York Times and whose astonishing tally of clients given the death penalty has been described by the American Bar Association Journal as a "possible record" in modern times. The British government complained that they were not notified of Carty's case, and that there was "ineffective assistance of counsel." It raised the issue with the then governor of Texas, Rick Perry, during his visit to the UK in 2013.

Yet it has now emerged that key witnesses have stepped forward with affidavits, signed in 2014, which allege that they testified against Carty because of intimidation, threats and blackmail from Harris County prosecutors. Christopher Robinson, who was arrested in connection to the case and was the only person to testify that he had seen Carty commit the murder, said that Texan District Attorneys Connie Spence and Craig Goodhart had "threatened me and intimidated me, telling me I would get the death penalty myself if Linda Carty did not get the death penalty." The affidavit, available via the Houston Chronicle, goes onto say that "they (Spence and Goodhart) were alternating between coaching me and threatening me to get me to say their version."

Former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Charles Mathis also produced an affidavit, stating that Carty worked as a confidential informant for him. The affidavit alleges: "Shortly after the initial investigation I was contacted by DA (District Attorney) Connie Spence. Spence called me on the telephone and I told Spence that I did not want to testify against Linda."

The affidavit goes on to state: "I told Spence that I had known Linda for a long time and I knew that Linda did not have it in her to kill anyone. Spence provided me with no option to testify against Linda: Spence threatened me with an invented affair that I was supposed to have with Linda."

A spokesman for the Harris County District Attorney's Office told VICE News: "We are not commenting on the allegations or the case at this time due to pending litigation."

In light of the new testimony, Carty's lawyers are asking for an evidentiary hearing, a request being considered by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

Clare Algar, executive director of Reprieve said: "If Linda is not granted a new hearing, she faces the death penalty based on lies extracted by prosecutors desperate to secure an execution at any cost. The behavior of prosecutors in this case has been so appalling it takes the breath away. They have stooped to targeting the marriage of one witness with invented slurs, while using the threat of death to force another to produce the lies they needed for conviction. Linda's last hope is that Texas recognizes that she deserves a new — and this time fair — trial."

A former teacher, Carty was born in St. Kitts when it was a British colony, and holds a UK passport.

A spokesman for the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office told VICE News: "While we respect the USA's right to bring those convicted of a crime to justice, the UK is deeply opposed to the use of the death penalty in all circumstances.

"In Linda Carty's case, we have additional, deep concerns about how this case was handled. We were not notified of her detention until after she had been convicted and sentenced to death. We also strongly believe her defense was very weak.

"We will continue to support Linda's case and remain in close contact with her legal team."

According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, seven women are currently on death row, including Carty. Its website boasts that "Texas leads the nation in the number of executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976." 

Follow Jenna Corderoy on Twitter: @JennaCorderoy