The Supreme Court has refused to review the case of a British woman sentenced to death for killing a Houston mother and stealing her baby in 2001.
The justices rejected an appeal from Linda Carty, who complained her trial lawyers were deficient.
Twenty-year-old Joana Rodriguez had just given birth days earlier when four men busted into her Houston apartment on May 16, 2001, pistol-whipped her husband and abducted her and her newborn.
Rodriguez's body was later found in the trunk of a car with a plastic bag over her head. Her arms and legs were bound with duct tape and her mouth and nose also had been covered with tape. An autopsy revealed she suffocated.
Authorities said Carty, a neighbor, plotted the kidnapping because she wanted Rodriguez's baby in a desperate attempt to keep her common-law husband.
Carty, 51, was found guilty of capital murder in February 2002. She is one of 10 women on Texas death row. The British government and anti-death penalty groups have taken up her cause.
Carty, who claims she had ineffective counsel and maintains her innocence, was optimistic before the ruling.
“I think there's a possibility they will take it,” Carty said during an interview last week at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Mountain View Unit, just west of Waco.
Texas officials will now set an execution date and Carty, a British citizen, will become the only woman to have a slot on the state's execution calendar. It could be years before she's actually put to death.
It is rare for women to get the death penalty in the United States and even rarer for them to be put death. Fifty-four women are on death row and in the modern era (1973 to 2009) of the death penalty, only 11 women have been executed.
Part of the reason is that few women commit capital offenses, but Ohio Northern University law professor Victor Streib, who has studied women and death penalty for 25 years, suggests there's a secondary reason.
The justice system, Streib said, treats women differently than men.
“Women aren't sentenced to death at trial as often as you think,” Streib said. “And once they're sentenced to death, they're more likely to have the sentence reversed by an appellate court. As a society, we're nervous about taking women's lives.”
That's even true in Texas, the nation's death penalty capital, he said. The state has executed only three women since 1973. The last female execution in the U.S. was in Texas in 2005. Francis Newton, of Harris County, was put to death for killing her husband and children in 1987. She sat on death row for nearly 20 years.
Bias denied, but . . .
Most prosecutors and judges deny there's a bias, but the statistics show otherwise, said Streib, who publishes an annual report, Death Penalty for Female Offenders.
Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos declined to comment on the issue because of pending death penalty cases, but other prosecutors who have handled capital cases involving women said they review them the same as they do those involving men.
“Our policy has always been if we feel someone committed a crime that merits the death penalty, we're going to seek it no matter who they are or what their gender is,” said Bob Gill, assistant chief of the criminal division of the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office.
Collin County's first assistant district attorney, Gregory Davis, tried two death penalty cases against women when he worked for the Dallas County District Attorney's Office from 1992-2002.
Darlie Routier, the North Texas mother sentenced to death for killing her children in 1996, was one of them. Davis said he had some hesitation about pursuing the death penalty against Routier only because it had never been done before in the county.
“From a practical standpoint, you have to take into account the attitude of jurors and the jurisdiction,” Davis said. “But in the Routier case, I didn't feel that was significant because of the terrible brutality and lack of remorse.”
He said he believes there is a public perception that women are not as violent as men, and jurors are sometimes less likely to impose death sentences against women. And when looking at mitigating factors, they are also more prone to listen to emotional appeals from women than men, he said.
“They have a hard time finding these women are a future danger,” Davis said.
Streib said it's difficult to pinpoint why some women get the death penalty and others do not because the justice system is not a rational process. But women who kill like men (kill strangers or commit a senseless act) or commit a brutal, bloody crime tend to get a death sentence, he said.
Roe Wilson, who handles post-conviction writs for the Harris County District Attorney's Office, described the facts in Carty's case as “heinous.” Carty, who pretended to be pregnant, had planned to cut the baby out of Rodriguez's stomach and had brought surgical supplies to do it, Wilson said. When she learned the woman already had the baby, she abducted her, she said.
Witnesses also said they saw Carty put the plastic bag over the mother's head while she lay in the trunk.
Was she framed?
Carty, who came to the United States in the early 1980s, contends that she was framed by the other suspects who learned she was an informant with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. One of them had borrowed her car the day of the crime, she said.
She said the state's case is fabricated and had she had proper counsel during her trial, she wouldn't be on death row. In lower court appeals filed by her appellate attorneys with Baker Botts law firm, Carty claims her state-appointed attorney met with her two weeks before her trial for only 15 minutes. He also failed to properly investigate her case, to interview and inform her common-law husband of his right to spousal immunity and to notify the British consulate about her case.
While the lower courts denied her requests for a new trial, they admitted there were mistakes made in her defense, said Michael Goldberg, a partner with Baker Botts.
The law firm is representing Carty for free at the request of the British government.
“I believe with all my heart that she deserves to have a trial so a jury can hear a real case with a real defense on her behalf,” Goldberg said. “We have 20 key witnesses who were never called and could have testified that Linda is not a murderer and not a danger to society.”
Chronicle reporter Allan Turner contributed to this story.