Last week Channel 4 aired a documentary called The British Woman on Death Row about British grandmother Linda Carty who has been sentenced to death in the state of Texas for her involvement in the abduction and killing of a young mother.
At first I greeted the subject with a certain amount of skepticism, not least because the crime involved was particularly heinous. Plus I had my very opinionated boyfriend next to me scoffing at feature writer Alex Hannaford’s every attempt to make us feel sorry for her, for example showing little of their actual conversation when he visited her in jail but including a segment of her singing Amazing Grace, as if the ability to sing well could prove one’s innocence. What did strike me as the programme went on however, wasn’t the suggestion of Carty’s innocence but the sad circumstances that had led to her demise and the fact she has been repeatedly let down by everyone around her, including the American justice system.
The documentary started by chronicling Carty’s life, including her decision to leave her home of St Kitts for the USA after having a child out of wedlock, enrolling in college in Texas and the horrific rape that led her life to spiral out of control. These factors don’t excuse her alleged criminality but I think it is important to point out that her rapists were never caught and she was unable to get an abortion in the conservative state of Texas. Here is a woman that was let down by her adoptive country with its shocking levels of rape prosecutions and lack of access to abortions. She then became a drug informant for the DEA, an extremely dangerous undertaking that saw her putting herself at risk to help police put away drug dealers and gang members.
What happened next is something that we may never know the truth about but we do know that on May 16th 2001 a group of masked men broke into the home of 25-year-old Joana Rodriguez and abducted her and her four day old son. Rodriquez was later found suffocated in the back of a car that belonged to Carty. Prosecutors claimed that Carty was so obsessed with having another child that she organised the abduction in order to get the baby. The evidence that they gave for this is that Carty was later found to have baby clothes in her car and also that the three co-defendants, Gerald Anderson, Chris Robinson, and Carlos Williams, testified in court that it had been her idea.
It turns out that Carty had recently suffered a miscarriage, which would explain the baby clothes so other than that, we have three violent criminals who, by agreeing to testify against Carty, saved themselves from death row and received life sentences instead. We have to wonder how much we can really rely on the testimonies of these men, especially since Carty’s appeal lawyers argue that the accusation may be a pay-back from the gangs who Carty informed against to the DEA.
The worst part of this sorry story is how much it seems Carty has been let down by the justice system. Her trial attorney Jerry Guerinot has been dubbed ‘the state’s undertaker’ for his unusually poor defense record. It has been reported that out 39 defendants that he has represented, 20 have been sentenced to death. This is more than the entire death row population of New Mexico, South Dakota, Maryland and Montana combined. He made several errors in representing Carty including not informing the British government (as was his legal duty) that Carty was facing murder charges, not using court appointed money to look into her background, spending very little time discussing the case with Carty before the trial, not interviewing fundamental witnesses, not spotting flaws in the prosecution’s case and not asking her contacts at the DEA to give her a good character recommendation, which it was later found, they would have been more than willing to do. And this is the man that the state of Texas sees fit to defend poor people who cannot afford their own lawyer – seems like a bit of a stitch up!
So basically we have a man who put as little effort as possible in trying to prove Carty’s innocence, and didn’t even look into any mitigating circumstances that, if presented to court, may have prevented the jury from deciding to give the death penalty. You can’t help but look at other, more high profile trials (for example OJ Simpson for a lack of more in depth knowledge into the American legal system) where a better trial attorney has got their defendant off on similarly murky evidence. It seems that in America, justice seems to be a commodity to be brought and if you are poor, you have little hope of receiving a fair trial.
It seems madness that three men who admit their guilt and can be proved to have taken part in a violent murder are allowed to live, whereas someone who maintains their innocence is sentenced to death row. This case reminds me of Troy Davis, who was sent to his death this year for his alleged part in the shooting of a police officer, while the man who has admitted to pulling the trigger is still alive. Should admitting your guilt really lead to a lesser sentence? Can we really be sure that out of all the people who maintain their innocence, it’s definitely not because at least some of them are actually innocent?
It can be very hard to prove whether someone is innocent or guilty, sometimes people who have served long sentences are released because new evidence has been found. No court, no matter how fair can get it right 100% of the time. With this being the case, how can we possibly live with ourselves when people are being put to death and there is a slight possibility that they are innocent. Doesn’t that make us as a society murderers? All we can hope for Carty is that enough people will look into the details of her case and believe that there is enough of a possibility of her innocence to kick up a fuss about it so that she might just be granted clemency. Reprive have started a petition to Save Linda Carty, which you can sign here.
Please do, because it doesn’t matter if she is innocent or if she is guilty, she at the very least hasn’t received a fair trial and doesn’t deserve to die because of it.