HOUSTON – A judge has rejected arguments from attorneys for a British woman on Texas death row that prosecutors coerced witnesses and improperly hid information that could have affected the outcome of her capital murder trial 14 years ago.
State District Judge David Garner ruled that Harris County prosecutors had overwhelming evidence Linda Carty led a plot to kill her 20-year-old neighbor, Joana Rodriguez, in 2001 and abduct the woman's infant.
Garner in June presided over a weeklong hearing ordered last year by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to consider the claims from Carty's appeals lawyers. His findings announced Thursday now get forwarded to that court, the state's highest criminal appeals court.
Carty, 57, was born in St. Kitts when it was a British territory. She has received international attention as the only British woman on death row in the United States. Carty had lived in Houston about 20 years as the time of the slaying.
Carty's defense team at her trial was headed by Houston attorney Jerry Guerinot, who handled nearly three dozen capital cases over almost four decades but none of his clients was acquitted. Her trial was the last capital case taken by Guerinot and his conduct was not the subject of this most recent appeal.
In his findings, Garner said some witness statements taken by prosecutors should have been turned over to Carty's trial lawyers but "in light of the entire body of evidence presented, including the trial testimony, the court finds there is no reasonable likelihood it could have affected judgments returned by the jury."
The judge also determined prosecutors did not knowingly use perjured testimony or allow untrue testimony at the trial.
Michael Goldberg, Carty's attorney, said Friday he would ask the appeals court to reopen the hearing so Garner could review a claim that defense attorneys at the trial weren't aware prosecutors had a deal with one of the witnesses who testified. Garner said in his ruling the claim wasn't included in his instructions from the appeals court.
"The judge stated he did not have the power to rule," Goldberg said, calling it a "key issue" in the case.
Josh Reiss, an assistant district attorney who defended the trial prosecutors at the hearing, told the Houston Chronicle that Garner's findings vindicated Carty's conviction and death sentence and the reputation of the two prosecutors who handled her trial.
"These were serious and unfounded allegations of misconduct against two very senior prosecutors who have done nothing for the past two decades except protect and serve the people of Harris County," Reiss said.
Three men who authorities said were accomplices of Carty received long prison terms. Carty was sentenced to death.
Rodriguez was taken with her days-old son, Ray Cabrera, from their apartment in southwest Houston on May 16, 2001. The infant was found safe in a car the same day. His mother was found suffocated in the trunk of another car. Her arms and legs were wrapped in duct tape, her mouth and nose also were taped and she had a plastic bag over her head.
At Carty's trial, evidence showed Carty recruited the three men to abduct the mother and child and hoped to save her relationship with her common-law husband by passing off the child as her own.
When she was arrested, Carty was on probation for impersonating a federal agent and previously had been arrested for auto theft and drug charges.