The Case of Linda Carty, the Death Penalty, and Britain

Linda Carty is awaiting execution as she is on death row in Texas. She was sentenced to death in 2002 for her part in the kidnapping and murder of Joana Rodriguez, a 25 year old neighbour. According to news reports, it was argued that the intent of the murder was so that Carty could steal Rodriguez’s baby and pass it off as her own. Clive Stafford Smith, a long campaigning lawyer for those on death row, has referred to the judgement against Carty as a “most desperate, outrageous miscarriage of justice.”

That questions have been raised about the original trial of someone on death row and due to be executed is not surprising. My interest in this case was piqued by the fact that Carty is British national and hence was entitled to assistance from the British Foreign Office after her initial arrest. Last year the British government submitted a brief as amicus curiae (friend of the court) on behalf of Carty. The brief states:

Among the failures of Ms. Carty’s trial counsel was his failure to notify or seek assistance from the British Consulate-General in Houston, Texas.

By a bilateral treaty duly ratified by both parties, the United States has undertaken an obligation to the United Kingdom to notify the appropriate British consular officials whenever a British national is detained in the United States…. By the same treaty, the United Kingdom has undertaken a reciprocal obligation to notify American consular officials whenever an American national is detained in the United Kingdom….

As a matter of international law… the clear breach of the Bilateral Consular Convention requires that this Court provide a remedy that will ensure that any consular assistance that the United Kingdom could have provided in the case of Ms. Carty be brought to bear on her trial and sentencing. Like the United States, the United Kingdom is committed to the rule of law. Hence, in light of the material assistance that could have been rendered in Ms. Carty’s case, the United Kingdom calls upon this Court to reverse the District Court’s decision and grant the writ of habeas corpus.

Carty’s trial attorney, Jerry Guerinot, said “This stuff about calling the British consulate and all is the biggest bunch of bunk I’ve ever seen.” He is wrong. As the U.S. Department of State say in their Foreign Affairs Manual:

Our most important function as consular officers is to protect and assist private U.S. citizens or nationals traveling or residing abroad. Few of our citizens need that assistance more than those who have been arrested in a foreign country or imprisoned in a foreign jail.

In their brief, the  UK Government are right to quote this. They add:

The U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), which is the U.K. counterpart to the U.S. Department of State and oversees the United Kingdom’s consulates throughout the world, is strongly committed to “do[ing] everything that [it] appropriately can to prevent the death penalty from being sought or carried out” against British nationals.

The brief specifically states:

Had it been duly notified, the British Consulate would have facilitated the provision of substantial assistance to Ms. Carty and her counsel prior to and during her trial in 2001 and 2002.

Consequently, the UK government requested that the Court to “reverse the judgment” and “grant Ms. Carty a new trial, new sentencing or other appropriate relief.” This appeal was rejected and the Supreme Court has refused to reopen the case.

According to the legal action charity Reprieve, the Republican Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, is in a position to be able to grant clemency to Ms. Carty. For the sake of all British nationals who ever travel to, or reside in, America, I concur with Stafford Smith who, on behalf of Reprieve, is “asking the British government to not hold back.” For as he says, “there’s no limit to what the government should not do for a citizen about to be killed by a foreign country.” If this intervention requires the British Prime Minister making formal or even informal representations to either the American President or the Governor of Texas, if not both, then this should be carried out post haste.