Life in prison for the only British citizen on death row in America

Nick Allen
Linda Carty speaking to The Telegraph's Nick Allen on death row in Texas - James Breeden

Behind a glass screen Linda Carty wipes away the tears as they fall onto her white prison overalls.

Carty, 60, convicted of murder and the only British citizen on death row in the United States, has spent 19 years inside the high security Mountain View Unit, outside Waco, Texas.

It is a godforsaken place. Barren, windswept, with brick housing blocks enveloped by barbed wire. Last year, the US Supreme Court declined to consider what may well have been her final appeal.

Carty, says she tries to stay optimistic about a reprieve, but she does think about the prospect of being strapped to a gurney and injected with a lethal cocktail of drugs.

"I would be a liar if I said it didn't cross my mind because I'm here on death row, and it's Texas," she says.

"I just think they should abolish the whole death penalty period. Is it a deterrent? No. It doesn't serve the purpose for which they created it. The victims' families will never have closure."

Carty was born in Saint Kitts and Nevis, in the Caribbean, before it gained independence from Britain in 1983. As a youngster she performed there for the Prince of Wales, singing “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory”. The Queen is still the head of state and Carty remains a British citizen. She grew up to become a primary school teacher on Saint Kitts, and then moved to Houston, Texas.

If executed she would be the first British woman put to death since Ruth Ellis in 1955.

The British government has attempted to intervene in the case. Carty receives regular visits from the British consulate in Houston, and lawyers for the British government have submitted objections to her death sentence, expressing "serious concerns for Ms Carty's human rights, fair trial, and access to justice". But the wheels of the appeals system have now ground to a halt, and the next development could be an execution date.

The crime for which Carty was convicted nearly two decades ago was horrific. She has always maintained her innocence.

According to the prosecution at her trial, in Houston, Carty orchestrated a plot in which she ordered three men - Gerald Anderson, Chris Robinson, and Carlos Williams - to break into the home of Joana Rodriguez, 25.

They kidnapped Miss Rodriguez and her three-day-old baby at gunpoint. Miss Rodriguez was tied up, with a bag over her head, and placed in the boot of a car linked to Carty, where she died of asphyxiation.

Carty, her trial heard, had been pretending to be pregnant and wanted a child to assuage her common law husband. Nearly a dozen phone calls were logged between Carty and Anderson on the night of the break-in.

The three men testified against Carty, saying she was the mastermind, and avoided death sentences themselves.

Asked by Telegraph if she committed the crime, Carty replied firmly through the glass: "No. I can truthfully say to you I did not commit this crime."

She claims to have been framed by the three men because she was an informant for the US Drug Enforcement Administration. Since her trial it has been confirmed that she was a DEA informant.

Regardless of her guilt or innocence Carty certainly lost the death row postcode lottery - Harris County, Texas, where the crime was committed, has sent more people to death row than any of the other 3,000 counties in the United States. And the state of Texas carried out more than half of all executions in the US last year.

The fact the crime took place in Harris County also meant Carty got as her state-appointed lawyer Jerry Guerinot.

Mr Guerinot has become famous, or infamous, among anti-death penalty advocates because he handled three dozen death penalty cases in Harris County, and not one of his clients was acquitted.

Carty claims he met her for approximately 15 minutes before her trial. The British government has argued, in court documents, that he did not give Carty enough time because he was busy with his daughter's wedding.

At the mention of Mr Guerinot, Carty sighs and says: "Don't get me started on him...my trial was a farce, pathetic, but what can you do? He saw me for 15 minutes, I knew then that everything was going to go to Hell in a hand basket.

Linda Carty before her conviction Credit: Reprieve

Years later the star witness, her co-defendant Chris Robinson, recanted much his testimony. Robinson said prosecutors had coached him to say he saw Carty suffocating Misss Rodriguez with a bag, and he did so to avoid the death penalty.

Carty's DEA handler, Special Agent Charles Mathis, now retired, also came forward long after the trial. Explaining why he did not give evidence at the trial he claimed prosecutors had threatened to publicly accuse him of having an affair with Carty, which he said was untrue. Special Agent Mathis said he did not believe Carty was capable of committing the crime.

Carty believes such developments would have led to her being freed on appeal in the British legal system.

She says: "I think it’s clear if I was in the UK I wouldn't be in jail. I would have had a right to a better lawyer. I would have been freed on appeal a long time ago.

"This is why the death penalty doesn't work. The crux of the problem is that politicians and DAs [district attorneys] have to be tough on crime. It's easy for them to put people in here and tell the public 'I just put a monster behind bars'. But it's so difficult, so embarrassing, for them to go back to the public later and say 'We made a mistake, we need to vacate this sentence'. So you've got people in here, not just me, who shouldn't be.

She adds: "The sad thing is you don't get an opportunity, once you've executed someone, to go back and dig them up from the grave and say 'Oops, I made a mistake, let me just put you back together'. You're done. You're dead."

A tipster has sent in new information to a website searching for new evidence, and it could lead to a new appeal, she says. But her main hope for release appears to be pressure from the British government.

Does she feel abandoned by Britain? "At times I do," she says. "I hate to pull that race card, but you can’t help but feel had I been a white daughter or niece of a rich Brit then I wouldn’t be here. It doesn't matter if I'm black or purple, I'm a British citizen, and that's something that cannot be either erased or washed away.

"I want to appeal to Theresa May, whoever's next, because I'm a British citizen and the buck stops with them.

"If an American citizen was in this position the US government would be taking a very active role at the top level in ensuring their citizen is being taken care of, as far as having a fair trial."

She added: "Anyone can see there's something wrong with the death penalty system. It's not working, it's not trustworthy. It is flawed. We need more district attorneys to stand up and have the courage to say 'Listen there's a portion of this person's case that I'm having a heck of a hard time accepting'.

"Everything was there in my case, the evidence was there to exonerate me, it was just we didn't have the proper counsel to go after it. And things I encountered in the appeal court should not have happened. The star witness recanted on a significant portion. He turned around and said 'I lied, she wasn't there, she didn't do it'. That was the state's case then and there.

"And yet the appeal judge came back and said they didn't find enough proof to overturn the case, and I'm still here. Something has to be wrong there. I have a problem with that."

Carty on death row Credit: James Breeden

Carty describes living conditions on death row as "horrid".

"I was living in a cell with mould, water running under the door and all over the floor." he says. She sings to herself to pass the time, often U2's "I still haven't found what I'm looking for."

Recalling singing for the Prince of Wales as a child, she tears up.

"He was young then and he loved the island. I liked him very much, and I still admire him," she says. "It was a girls' choir, I had a pretty good voice and I was the lead singer. I said to him 'Welcome to Saint Kitts' and sang. It was a great occasion for us."

News takes a while to filter through to her, and she inquires after the birth of the royal baby, asking "Has Meghan had the baby yet?"

A UK official said: "We have been providing support to Ms Carty for a number of years, and will continue to do so. We have raised our interest in her case on multiple occasions with the US authorities, and remain in close contact with her family and legal team.

"We judge each request to file an amicus curiae brief on its individual merits and following careful legal scrutiny, as we have done on this case."

The amicus curiae brief filed by the UK, and seen by The Telegraph, focuses heavily on the original failure of the US to inform the UK of Carty's citizenship, and the role of Mr Guerinot.

It says he had a "woeful record of representation in capital cases. It appears that Ms Carty’s counsel met with her only once before trial, for fifteen minutes, and that he told her that he had not prepared her defense because of his daughter’s wedding."

When he retired a few years ago Mr Guerinot defended his record. He said: "My theory is if they [his clients] are the sorriest of the worst or the very worst, I got them. Somebody's got to defend - 'defend' is the wrong word - represent these people.

"You never hear about the ones we pleaded down to aggravated robbery, or when the jury came back with a life sentence."

The British submission also accuses the US of a "violation of Ms Carty's constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel."

It says that "undermined the overall fairness of Ms Carty's trial" and prevented "crucial evidence" going before the jury which "could have made a difference in the outcome."

The British submission also outlined mitigating evidence that, before the crime, she had been subjected to serious violence in Houston and suffered chronic post-traumatic stress disorder

Other evidence that was compiled later included affidavits from top officials in Saint Kitts which would have "attested to Ms Carty’s good character" and her history as a "highly credible primary school teacher."

The former prime minister of Saint Kitts called her "someone who was willing to put herself on the line to improve things and make the community better."

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