The British woman on Death Row


Last night, Channel 4 screened a documentary about convicted murderess Linda Carty; with major contributions from Clive Stafford Smith, it could only have been an exercise in special pleading.

For those who can receive it, The British Woman on Death Row can currently be found here.

This is a documentary about Clive Stafford Smith – patron saint of lost causes – as much as about convicted murderess Linda Carty. It is introduced as the extraordinary story of the British woman on death row. The reality is that while Linda Carty was indeed convicted of an extraordinary murder, her claim to British citizenship is as tenuous as Stafford Smith’s grip on reality. The entertainer Cliff Richard was born in India; does anyone claim Cliff Richard is Indian?

A much younger Clive Stafford Smith appears in this video, dating from the time he shot to fame as the gullible limey lawyer who advocated for Edward Johnson, who was executed for murder in 1987. We are told here that Johnson was executed in spite of many of the guards on death row believing him to be innocent, though we are not told how many of those guards sat on the jury that convicted him and sentenced him to death.

That claim of innocence is echoed by Mr Stafford Smith who writes * on the Reprieve website:

“One of the executions I witnessed was one of an innocent man: Edward Earl Johnson, who was executed in a Mississipi gas chamber in 1987”. (His spelling of Mississippi).

Got that, Ed Johnson was innocent. Right?

Although this documentary is about Linda Carty, it is worthwhile making an excursion to the Johnson case here to demonstrate just how objective and honest is our crusading lawyer.

Let us see what the United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit said on May 19, 1987.

In Johnson’s brief, to which Stafford Smith contributed, it is argued:

(A) His trial counsel were ineffective. – That old useless lawyer gambit again; it is truly amazing how many bad lawyers there are in the good ol’ US of A, and somehow they all seem to get lumbered with innocent clients on capital charges.

(B) His prior habeas corpus counsel were ineffective. – Obviously, if his lawyers were so bad.

(C) An instruction of the trial court created a mandatory presumption that improperly shifted the burden of proof to him. – Hmm, like explaining how he came to be in possession of the murder weapon?

(D) The prosecution concealed the fact that a biased juror failed to disclose her bias. – Apparently, the juror had a relative in the county, a stepson, who was in no way connected with these proceedings. That one is weak indeed.

(E) A statement taken from Johnson violated his right to counsel under the sixth and fourteenth amendments. – These appear to relate to the right to a speedy trial and perhaps something to do with (playing the) race (card), a well worn tactic for black defendants who are as guilty as sin.

(F) It would violate the eighth amendment to execute Johnson because he was only 18 years old at the time of the crime. – The crime he did not commit?

(G) The Mississippi capital statute under which Johnson was tried is unconstitutional on its face because it limits the mitigating circumstances he could develop for the jury.

Whatever that means. Does the reader notice a curious desideratum? Not one of these grounds of appeal claims Johnson is not guilty/innocent and has been wrongly convicted. That is hardly surprising because in the judgment we are told:

“Johnson asserts that at a time when he was the only suspect, when he was in custody, and after his family had told law enforcement agents that they wished to get Johnson an attorney, a statement was taken from him by officers. In this statement, Johnson implicated himself and gave officers sufficient information to enable them to recover Marshal Trest’s gun that Johnson had used to murder the officer.”

Oops. What was that about “One of the executions I witnessed was one of an innocent man: Edward Earl Johnson, who was executed in a Mississipi gas chamber in 1987”, Clive?

Then there is this classic: “Johnson’s new counsel contend that the admission of this statement was obviously prejudicial.”

Well, yes, if you tell the police where you hid the murder weapon, that might just be prejudicial to a verdict of not guilty.

Now that we have established the veracity of Clive Stafford Smith – not for the first time on this site – let us return to Carty. The documentary maker Steve Humphries has dug up or been given access to a lot of footage, including crime scene photographs of Joana Rodriguez, the woman Carty smothered with a plastic bag in the trunk of her car. The fact that Houston Police gave him free access to so much material speaks volumes for their belief in Carty’s guilt. They are saying in effect, this is an open and shut case; we have nothing to hide.

Amusingly, Clive Stafford Smith likens the death penalty applied to convicted murderers to the same applied to those convicted of witchcraft in a bygone age. What he seems to forget is that murderers are real; witches are not.

For those who are not au fait with this case or who want a recap, check out this article and this one, and most important, the findings of fact by the appellate courts. They refute all the nonsense and special pleading in this documentary which Steve Humphries has overlooked or glossed over, for whatever reason, like the oft’ repeated claim that Carty’s original lawyer is to blame for not informing the British consulate, the embassy or the Queen herself that one of her loyal subjects had been arrested on a murder charge and was in desperate need of a get out of jail free card. Carty lied to Jerry Guerinot, telling him she was an American citizen.

There is also a lot of guff about Carty entering into a number of abusive relationships, including with a drug dealer, and how she risked life and limb working undercover for the DEA. All lies.

Humphries concludes that her trial was a fiasco and that this poor woman deserves our sympathy. He does make one good point, that is that if Carty is guilty – if? – then what she did is crazy, or words to that effect, and by implication she should not have been tried.

This claim has some merit, unfortunately though, Carty did not elect to run an insanity defence, so it is too late to go back for a second bite of the cherry.

Will she be executed, and does she deserve it?

Certainly there are far worse people in line for lethal injection in Texas, but if ever a woman deserved to die for one murder, then that woman is Linda Anita Carty. Don’t shed any tears for her; there are many, far more tragic cases on death row all over America, and unlike Carty, a few of them might just be innocent.

[The above article was first published November 29, 2011. * This quote was linked to the Reprieve website using WebCite, which at the time of updating this page, October 2022, is down, quite likely permanently. However, someone else quoted Stafford Smith, here.]

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