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A Case for the Supreme Court

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Linda Carty, a British citizen, faces the death penalty by lethal injection later this year, unless the Supreme Court agrees to hear her case. As with so many other death penalty convictions, Linda's case was fraught with errors and is an egregious miscarriage of justice.

For nearly three decades I have campaigned for justice and human rights throughout the world. During that period I have witnessed the State machinery of death at work, selectively killing people because they are poor, members of a minority and cannot afford adequate legal counsel. The death penalty is unfair, arbitrary and capricious, often based on jurisprudence fraught with racial discrimination and judicial bias. There is no guarantee that those who are executed are those who have committed the worst crimes; the death penalty is a Russian roulette.

Linda Carty was born in 1958 on the Caribbean island of St Kitts. She was a good student, active in politics and her local community and sang in the local gospel choir. After finishing school, she worked as an elementary school teacher and helped children from low-income families. After her boyfriend left Linda to bring up their daughter alone, she moved to Texas with her family. While studying for her pharmacology degree at the University of Houston, Linda was raped and fell pregnant. She subsequently gave the baby up for adoption. Later, Linda was recruited as an informant by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), in order to gather information on suspected drug traffickers of Caribbean origin. Her employer, Charlie Mathis, says that Linda risked her life for him on several occasions. This undercover work made Linda many formidable enemies. She believes that it was this work that led to her being framed for the kidnapping and murder of Joana Rodriguez.

On 16 May 2001, three men broke into Joana Rodriguez's apartment, kidnapping her and her newborn baby. Rodriguez was bound with duct tape and a plastic bag was placed over her head. She suffocated to death in the boot of a car; the baby was found alive in another car on the same day.

Chris Robinson, who admitted committing the crime, and was charged with capital murder, received a lesser sentence in return for testifying against Linda Carty. He and his accomplices claim that Linda planned the kidnapping of Joanna Rodriguez and her baby, promising them cash and drugs in return. Linda has always maintained her innocence. She argues that the men framed her as a result of her undercover work as an informant for the DEA.

Linda's court-appointed attorney, Jerry Guerinot, did almost nothing in Linda's defence, failing even to meet Linda until two weeks before the trial started. Although Guerinot petitioned for and received state funding to go to St Kitts, in order to interview witnesses willing to testify in Linda's favour, which would have enabled him to give the jury a better picture of Linda's character, he simply never performed this investigation; he left critical testimony undiscovered. He failed to spot obvious flaws and inconsistencies in the prosecution's case and to investigate key mitigating evidence. Even the Federal Court of Appeals found that Guerinot performed disastrously.

The prosecution's case focused on Linda's turbulent relationship with her husband, claiming that Linda planned to keep the baby as her own. Guerinot did not attempt to disprove these alleged motives, investigate the victim's cause of death or highlight the lack of forensic evidence against Linda. He never even interviewed Linda's husband (which even Guerinot admits was a mistake.)

Linda states, "There was nothing that linked me to the case except hearsay. I wouldn't put anything past these people [Robinson and his accomplices] and they know I didn't know anything about it. Our paths had never crossed until that day. If the DNA on the body itself isn't mine, then whose is it? It was never tested."

Linda Carty was declared guilty for the murder of Rodriguez and sentenced to death by lethal injection. She is being held at the Mountain View Unit - a maximum security state prison in Huntsville, Texas, where she has been languishing on death row for eight years.

Guerinot has more clients on death row than any other lawyer in the US. Clive Stafford-Smith, founder and director of Reprieve, says: "Jerry Guerinot has, in my opinion, the worst record of any capital defence lawyer in America. He has had more clients sentenced to death than most states have prisoners on death row . . . He's shockingly bad."

Michael Goldberg is an eminent Texas lawyer. Although he is not a proponent of abolishing the death penalty, he is appalled at the miscarriages of justice in Linda's case. Mr Goldberg's firm, Baker Botts, a prominent international legal firm with three offices in Texas, is now representing her free of charge. Goldberg condemns Guerinot's mishandling of the case: "once I saw what had happened in the trial, or rather what didn't happen in terms of no defence, I just became outraged."

The US authorities failed to notify British officials when Linda was arrested, which is a violation of the US/ UK bilateral Treaty. Moreover, by not contacting the British Consulate or informing Linda of her right to contact the consulate the authorities violated the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which requires that local authorities inform foreign nationals being held on criminal charges of their rights abroad, and their right to consult with their country's diplomats in order to secure a fair trial. Like some other foreign nationals who have not had access to this contact and assistance, Linda Carty was a victim of woefully inadequate legal representation.

Guerinot has said, "this stuff about calling the British consulate and all is the biggest bunch of bunk I've ever seen." In fact, the Consulate could have saved Linda Carty's life. The British Foreign Office says, "The first we knew she was British was after she was sentenced to death. Had we known beforehand, we would have been in touch with her within 24 hours and would have made our position very clear to the Houston authorities - that we are opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances." The British Consulate has a list of approved lawyers and would have helped Carty to change her representation. Needless to say, Guerinot is not on that list.

Paul Lynch, the British Consul-General in Houston, has called the Carty conviction "a terrible failure of the system." He states that if the British Consulate had been made aware of Linda's situation, the circumstances would have been very different.

Linda Carty's case points to many deeper flaws within the US judicial system. Her profile is typical for some on death row: she is poor, black and cannot afford adequate legal counsel. It would be a shameful reflection on the US, a country that proclaims itself a beacon of democracy and civil liberties, if Linda Carty is executed.

Goldberg states that he "will not be able to sleep at night knowing that Linda Carty could be killed without ever having the chance to have a fair trial."

I ask how any one of us can sleep at night, knowing that Linda Carty could be the next victim of a flawed, racially biased judicial system. In my capacity as Council of Europe Goodwill Ambassador and Founder and Chair of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation, I urge the Supreme Court to reconsider the circumstances of Linda Carty's case, and take this golden opportunity to demonstrate the US judicial system's commitment to fairness. As Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said, "Fairness is what justice really is."