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'Express lane to death': Texas seeks approval to speed up death penalty appeals, execute more quickly

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Texas is seeking to speed up executions with a renewed request to opt-in to a federal law that would shorten the legal process and limit appeals options for death-sentenced prisoners.
Defense attorneys worry it would lead to the execution of innocent people and - if it's applied retroactively, as Texas is requesting - it could potentially end ongoing appeals for a number of death row prisoners and make them eligible for execution dates.
"Opt-in would speed up the death penalty treadmill exponentially," said Kathryn Kase, an longtime defense attorney and former executive director of Texas Defender Services.
But a state attorney general spokeswoman framed the request to the Justice Department as a necessary way to avoid "stressful delays" and cut down on the "excessive costs" of lengthy federal court proceedings.
Robbie Kaplan, co-founder of the #TimesUp movement, says sweeping changes to laws in recent years have dissuaded attorneys from taking on har…

Judge finds no misconduct by Harris County prosecutors that would have altered Carty death sentence

Linda Carty
Linda Carty
Accusations of prosecutorial misconduct, hidden information in 2002 trial rejected

A district court judge ruled Thursday that Harris County prosecutors did not engage in misconduct or hide information that would have changed the outcome of Linda Carty's 2002 capital murder trial.

Attorneys for Carty, a British citizen and grandmother, had argued that the death-row inmate should be granted a new trial and sentencing hearing. They contended witness statements hidden for 14 years proved that her conviction was based on flawed testimony used to portray her as the mastermind of a kidnapping and murder plot in 2001.

But Judge David Garner, a Galveston-based visiting judge, found prosecutors had overwhelming evidence of Carty's guilt from multiple other sources. Although he found that some witness statements should have been turned over to her original defense attorneys before her 2002 trial, he also ruled that the material likely would not have altered the course of her conviction and that witnesses had not been coerced.

As part of Carty's latest appeal, Garner heard testimony from 13 witnesses and reviewed 72 exhibits as part of a weeklong hearing in June.

Carty was the only one of four defendants sentenced to death for the murder of Joana Rodriguez, who was dragged out of her Houston apartment along with her newborn child in May 2001, setting off a manhunt. The baby was rescued, but Rodriguez was found dead, bound and gagged, in the trunk of a car.

Carty, Rodriguez's neighbor and a former informant for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, helped lead police to the car. But prosecutors later portrayed her as the person who planned the robbery and kidnapping because she wanted Rodriguez's son.

Law of parties

Carty was convicted and sentenced to death in 2002 under Texas so-called law of parties showing that she acted with three co-conspirators to commit the kidnapping and robbery, records show. Two of the three testified against Carty, and all three were subsequently sentenced to prison for kidnapping.

Two of her co-conspirators and her former DEA handler testified at the hearing in June that they'd been coerced or coached what to say by prosecutors.

But Garner found that Carty "fails to demonstrate that the prosecution threatened or coerced witnesses … into testifying falsely during (her) capital murder trial."

Harris County Assistant District Attorney Josh Reiss, who defended his fellow prosecutors, Connie Spence and Craig Goodhart, said Garner's ruling vindicated both Carty's conviction and death sentence - and the reputation of his colleagues.

"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. And this recommendation serves to uphold their fine reputations," he said in an interview Thursday.

Carty, who was born on the island of St. Kitts and holds British citizenship, has been on death row for 14 years. Over the years, her long-running case has generated international publicity, a documentary film and protests from both the British government and activists like Bianca Jagger, but this is only the latest loss in a long series of appeals. Carty's defense attorney Michael Goldberg was travelling and declined comment.

Click here to read the full article

Source: Houston Chronicle, Lise Olsen, September 1, 2016

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