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Prosecutors accused of hiding evidence, inventing testimony in death penalty case involving St.Kitts Woman Linda Carty

Witnesses say prosecutors coerced them

Linda Carty, shown on death row in 2010, was sentenced in the 2001 kidnapping and death of a 20-year-old woman in Houston.
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By Lise Olsen,
July 4, 2016

In a rare post-conviction hearing ordered by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, four witnesses testified last week that they were coerced and threatened by a pair of Harris County veteran prosecutors in a case that sent a Houston woman to death row 14 years ago.

Linda Carty, a former teacher and ex-DEA informant, was sentenced to die after prosecutors convinced a jury that she organized three men to invade an apartment and kidnap her neighbor, Joana Rodriguez, all in order to snatch Rodriguez’s newborn baby in May 2001.

But in the hearing, prosecutors Connie Spence and Craig Goodhart were accused of destroying case notes and emails, of hiding at least 18 recorded witness statements from Carty’s original defense team, and of coercing testimony to ensure Carty got a death sentence. A retired DEA agent testified that he was threatened by Spence. A star prosecution witness claims the pair instructed him to lie in a series of private meetings.

Both prosecutors still work for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office as supervisors. In an unusual about-face, they too appeared as witnesses in a Harris County District Court before a visiting judge in a hearing that has lasted five days and will continue this week.
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Linda Carty shown in an interview on death row at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Mountain View Unit Tuesday, April 27, 2010, in Gatesville sheds tears as she talks about her daughter. Carty was sentenced to death in February 2002 for the kidnapping and death of 20-year-old woman in Houston. Carty has a petition before the U.S. Supreme Court to seek a new trial, but if the court refuses to hear her case, an execution date will be set. Carty is one of nine women on death row. The last time a woman was executed was in 2005. ( Melissa Phillip / Houston Chronicle )
Death row inmate wins appeal to review claims of prosecution
Linda Carty shown in an interview on death row at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Mountain View Unit Tuesday, April 27, 2010, in Gatesville sheds tears as she talks about her daughter. Carty was sentenced to death in February 2002 for the kidnapping and death of 20-year-old woman in Houston. Carty has a petition before the U.S. Supreme Court to seek a new trial, but if the court refuses to hear her case, an execution date will be set. Carty is one of nine women on death row. The last time a woman was executed was in 2005. ( Melissa Phillip / Houston Chronicle )
DEA agent, former eyewitness allege prosecutorial misconduct in

Under oath, both denied fabricating testimony or hiding evidence, though each acknowledged emails and notes had been lost or destroyed over time. “Defense had access to the evidence any time they wanted to look at it,” Spence testified.

Carty’s pro bono defense team, headed by Michael Goldberg of Baker Botts, argued at the hearing that newly discovered evidence – detailed in testimony and 70 different exhibits -proves that both prosecutors repeatedly violated the so-called Brady rule by failing to disclose potentially exculpatory evidence and by concealing information about the credibility of witnesses used to convict their client.

Goldberg has argued all that evidence should be enough to win Carty a new trial.

Galveston County District Judge David E. Garner, presiding as a visiting judge, will decide whether there’s enough evidence to reject or recommend a new trial based on prosecutorial misconduct.

British citizenship

Carty, a petite, dark-eyed woman, has been on death row since 2002 and is now a grandmother.

She was born on the island of St. Kitts, at the time a British protectorate, and holds British citizenship. Her long-running case has generated a documentary film, front-page news stories in London and protests from Bianca Jagger and other celebrities. In an amicus brief, the British government has joined her defense in arguing that her death sentence came only after prosecutors improperly coerced key witnesses and hid evidence.

In one long day of questioning last week, Goldberg accused Spence, who served as lead prosecutor in the Carty case, of going to extremes to obtain her first and only death row conviction.

Spence, now a supervisor in prosecuting cases of crimes against children, denied making threats or hiding evidence.

Goodhart too denied fabricating testimony or other misconduct. He’s also a supervisor, but spent much of his career on complex murder cases and described himself as a very aggressive prosecutor.

Five years after the Carty case, Goodhart served as co-counsel under his former boss, Kelly Siegler, in the controversial murder trial of former Katy football coach David Temple, convicted in 2007 of killing his pregnant wife. The Temple case has also been attacked in a recent appeal with a district court judge issuing an 80-page ruling in September that outlined 36 different instances of prosecutorial misconduct. Those allegations have been challenged by the Harris County DA’s office and that appeal also is pending.

Back in 2002, Spence and Goodhart used witness statements, evidence from cars found at the crime scene and phone records to convince a jury that Carty plotted the home invasion, robbery and kidnapping because she’d become obsessed with stealing her neighbor’s baby after several miscarriages.

Chris Robinson Affidavit

Her neighbor, Rodriguez, was later found asphyxiated, bound and gagged, in the trunk of a car linked to Carty. The 3-day-old infant was rescued, thanks in part to information Carty voluntarily gave the Houston Police Department about three men she claimed also had threatened her.

Texas law now specifically requires that prosecutors provide copies of police files and witness statements to defense attorneys. But in the early 2000s, defense attorneys in Harris County could read reports but were not generally provided copies of police documents or of recorded statements prior to trial even in capital cases, Lynn Hardaway, a veteran prosecutor and appellate attorney, said in representing her colleagues at the hearing.

The star prosecution witness in Carty’s case, a co-conspirator named Chris Robinson, was interviewed 11 different times after the crime and over time his statements against Carty became more damning, according to testimony he and others gave in last week’s hearing. Robinson also has claimed in an affidavit that he was threatened by prosecutors and told to falsely say that he saw Carty herself put a plastic bag over Rodriguez’s head – critical evidence during Carty’s trial.

 

Defense lawyers testify

Carty’s two original court-appointed defense attorneys, Windi Pastorini and Carty’s Gerald Guerinot, testified they did not know about all of Robinson’s interviews. Prosecutors allowed them to view a videotape of only one of his three recorded statements – after Carty’s trial began.

Under Texas’ law of parties, all defendants involved in a kidnapping plot that ends in murder could face a death sentence – and negotiating with co-defendants to try to obtain proof and work out deals remains a standard practice in Harris County.

Hardaway and Josh Reiss, another assistant district attorney, argued in last week’s hearing that witnesses in Carty’s appeal exaggerated or invented claims that they were coached or threatened. Reiss also presented documents showing that Carty’s current defense attorneys also repeatedly met with Robinson to obtain the sworn statement that accuses prosecutors of misconduct.

Charles Mathis 2014 Affidavit

After emigrating to the United States, Carty studied pharmacy at the University of Houston and, on the side, became a DEA informant. She passed along tips to both the DEA and the Houston Police department until about 1994. She was suspended as an informant after being arrested, but stayed in touch with her former DEA handler, Charles Mathis, a supervising agent.

Threatened with allegation

Mathis, who is now retired, testified Thursday that Spence threatened him with an allegation of an invented extramarital affair to compel him to testify against Carty.

Mathis said he came to Houston Police Department headquarters in 2001 after Carty was summoned there by detectives to provide information about men she had reported as having threatened her in the same apartment complex where a kidnapping had occurred. At the time, detectives were trying to locate Rodriguez and her child. They believed the suspects had carried out a series of home invasion robberies, including a kidnapping and rape, according to officers’ testimony.

Mathis said Carty clearly had some knowledge of the attackers that police used to rescue Rodriguez’s baby. But Mathis said Carty didn’t deserve the death penalty and was improperly questioned as a suspect without being read her Miranda warning. He said he considered her incapable of violence or of ordering around three men as tough as her co-defendants. “I thought they could chew her up and spit her out.”

Mathis said he reported that Carty’s rights had been violated to Spence in a private meeting. He said after that Spence questioned him about whether he’d had an affair with Carty. Mathis said he saw her question as “a threat” because if Spence had aired the false and baseless accusation at trial it could have nonetheless ruined his career and harmed his marriage.

But Spence denied during the hearing that she ever asked Mathis about having an affair with Carty to get him to testify.

Pastorini, one of Carty’s original defense attorneys, testified last week that an experienced DEA agent could have helped convince a jury to spare Carty’s life if he’d agreed to appear as a character witness.

But a fax record produced at this week’s hearing says that Spence separately informed an investigator on Carty’s original defense team that Mathis did not want to be contacted.

Three of Carty’s accomplices were also prosecuted in connection with the home invasion and kidnapping, though only Carty was convicted of capital murder and condemned to die. Two of the three, Robinson and Gerald Anderson, both claimed in the hearing that they were threatened by prosecutors and told what they had to say. Anderson refused to testify in Carty’s trial.

Another prosecution witness separately said he testified only after being threatened and getting a deal to dismiss a gun charge – an arrangement Carty’s original defense attorneys say was never disclosed.

Original attorney angry

Both of Carty’s original court-appointed attorneys said they never received copies of 18 recorded statements obtained by Carty’s current attorneys and submitted as evidence during last week’s hearing.

“I am so incensed they would hide all these witnesses from us and expect justice to be done and expect Linda Carty to get a fair trial,” Pastorini said.

Texas and federal courts have denied Carty’s prior appeals. But her newer claims of prosecutorial misconduct were found worthy of further review by the Court of Criminal Appeals in February 2015. A majority of Texas’ highest criminal court ordered that the Harris County’s 177th District Court judge consider the misconduct allegations raised in affidavits by witnesses.

Testimony is expected to conclude Tuesday. After that, Garner said he will hear closing arguments, review evidence and issue findings later this summer on whether to accept or reject Carty’s multiple claims of prosecutorial misconduct. If he rules in Carty’s favor, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals would then decide whether to order a new trial.

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1 Comment on Prosecutors accused of hiding evidence, inventing testimony in death penalty case involving St.Kitts Woman Linda Carty

  1. Bullshit bullshit bullshit…Linda Carty is killer. A master minipulator. Nobody lied on her. She’s a killer and real soon this cow is going to get what she deserves.

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