Linda Carty says she’s innocent – but she’s behind bars waiting for an execution date. Joanna Moorhead travelled to Texas to meet her, and to find out what UK Catholics can do to help save her life.
Imagine a landscape more desolate than anything you‘ve ever seen, a place that seems to define the phrase ‘back of beyond’, the last place on earth you’d want to be – and you’ve arrived at somewhere very much like Mountain View in Gatesville, Texas. To reach here, I’ve driven for four and a half hours through some of the most uninspiring countryside on the planet, and then – because my GPS didn’t recognise the address – I ended up on a firing range on a windswept hillside. Eventually, under a grey sky and with a police escort, I arrived at my destination: and I’m now sitting opposite Linda Carty, whose lovely smile belies her ugly surroundings.
Linda is the last person you’d expect to be smiling so beautifully, since she has very little to be happy about. Because for her, Mountain View isn’t just an out-of-the-way, featureless place to hang out: for her, it’s a prison and – far worse – a prison on whose death row she is a resident.
Sitting looking at her now – albeit with my view obscured by the fine mesh-wire grille that divides us in the cheerless prison visiting room – it’s hard to believe that Linda has ended up in this situation. A Catholic, British grandmother who claims she has devoted much of her life to fighting drugs crime, she’s the very last sort of person you’d expect to find on death row.
But Linda is here, and she’s been here for more than a decade. She was convicted in 2002 of the murder of a 25-year-old woman called Joana Rodriguez, and two days later came the sentence: death by lethal injection. It wasn’t the first time Linda had been in trouble with the police – though never for anything as serious as murder – but, she maintains, her previous arrests, and the Rodriguez murder, are all connected to fact that she worked undercover for the US Drugs Enforcement Agency as an undercover informant. ‘I was the bait, and the person who set up the stings, so of course I sometimes had to get pulled in too, otherwise the criminals would have suspected.
‘But the DEA always sorted things out for me – they made sure things were ok.’
Until 2001, when Joana Rodriguez, who lived near Linda in Houston, was kidnapped along with her three-day-old son. The baby was later found unharmed, but Joana, who had been tied up and dumped in the boot of a car, had suffocated.
I receive Bible Alive, which is sent to all prisoners on death row, and I read it. And it helps so much to know that there are other Christians out there praying for me, and doing what they can to help me
Today, in the visiting room at Mountain View, Linda tells me about the moment when she saw on the news that there had been a kidnapping in her neighbourhood. ‘I said to myself, thank goodness I’ve decided to move away from this area,’ she says. ‘The very last thing I expected was that within a few hours, the police would be arresting me for the crime.’
The police case was that Linda, who not long before had suffered a miscarriage, had wanted to kidnap Joana’s child and raise him as her own; Linda’s case is that she had lent her daughter Jovelle’s car to some drug dealers she was tracking, that they used it to kidnap Joana and then, in order to get their own sentences reduced, had claimed she had masterminded the murder.
Linda says she still finds it ‘unbelievable’ that she’s here. What was just as unbelievable as the trial, and the verdict, and the sentence, was that appeal after appeal has now ended in failure, and the next point in the process is perhaps the most terrifying moment of all: the moment when the local district attorney announces a date for her execution. ‘There are times when that comes into my mind, of course there are,’ she says. ‘But the thing is that I’ve got hope; I’m not letting go of my hope, and I really do believe that things are going to turn round for me.’
The worst part of being at Mountain View, says Linda, is being separated from her family: especially her daughter Jovelle, 32, and her grandsons Jhori, six, and four-year-old Caden. Two days before going to see Linda in Gatesville, I tell Linda, I called in on Jovelle in Houston. ‘Did you see the boys?’ she asks me enthusiastically. ‘What are they like? What were they doing?’
When they were younger, Jovelle used to bring the children to visit their grandmother: but then prison regulations changed, and she was told it wasn’t allowed any more. ‘I’ve not seen Caden since he was six weeks old and I’ve not seen Jhori since he was nearly two. And I’ve never been able to touch or cuddle either of them, because family visits are the same as all visits, and you’re separated from the person you’re talking to by glass and wire mesh.
‘That’s the hardest part. Not being able to be with my family; not being able to see the boys growing up. Not being able to cuddle Jovelle, or be there for her when she needs me. And there’s my mother as well, who’s getting older and who also needs me…’ When she was talking about her case, Linda was matter-of-fact and measured; but now, talking about her family, she struggles to keep her emotions under control. ‘It’s really, really hard,’ she says, wiping her eyes with a Kleenex. ‘Really tough.’
Linda was born on the Caribbean island of St Kitts in 1958. She was one of eight children, and she was raised an Anglican, though she attended a Catholic school. She did well academically, and she always had a lovely singing voice – on one occasion when the Prince of Wales visited the then colony, she sang a solo at one of the events organised for him. After school she trained and then worked as a teacher: but then, when she was 21, she discovered she was pregnant by her long-time boyfriend. ‘My mum lost her job when she found out she was having me, because she wasn’t married,’ Jovelle told me. ‘It wasn’t fair, but that’s how things were in those days – and things were very difficult for her for a while, because she struggled to bring me up on her own.’
That’s the hardest part. Not being able to be with my family; not being able to see the boys growing up
A couple of years later the extended Carty family decided to move to Houston, so Jovelle ended up being raised just as her mother had been raised, amongst a big clan, despite being in a different country. Linda decided to retrain as a pharmacist – but one night in the university car park she was raped, and later discovered she was pregnant. She kept the pregnancy secret and gave the child up for adoption – Jovelle says she only learned of the event during her mother’s trial – but she had to give up her studies, and her life spiralled into difficulties. It was around this point, she claims, that she was recruited to work as an undercover agent in the seedy and dangerous world of drugs and crime. Her connections to the Caribbean, her knowledge of pharmacy, plus a new partner who was Mexican and whose presence gave her a legitimate excuse to travel to Mexico to check out drugs offenders, made her ideal for the job.
What she never imagined, though, was that her handler and bosses in the world of drugs espionage would be prepared to see her go down and, even worse, be given a death sentence because of her involvement in their world. ‘I feel totally betrayed by them,’ she tells me at Mountain View. ‘Apart from the displacement from my family, that’s the hardest thing about what I’m going through. It was a slap in the face…I’d sacrificed a lot of my life for that cause, and when I needed them they abandoned me.
‘I ended up as a pawn in their game, and I bitterly regret the day I ever got involved in it. If I could turn back the clock, I’d never have let them pull me into their world.’
Linda says darkly that she’s ‘not said all I could say, because I worry about the safety of Jovelle and the children,’ but she claims that if the truth in her case had unravelled it would have been the undoing of other people higher up the food chain than her.
Two things, she says, keep her going: her belief in God, and her trust that right will prevail eventually, and she will be freed to live out her days back in Houston near Jovelle and the boys. She converted to Catholicism about 15 years ago – Jovelle is currently considering following her into the Church – and says that her faith is ‘everything’ to her now she’s behind bars.
‘Because of my Catholic education I’d really always felt Catholic, so embracing it properly about 15 years ago made a lot of sense. I’ve got a rosary with me in my cell and I say it often; I’ve got a bible as well, and I read the word of God most days.
‘It’s difficult to see a priest in here – I put in requests, but nothing happens. Occasionally there’s a service led by a pastor from another church, and I always go to it – I love the Lord, and I love church services. But it’s years since I went to Mass or received Holy Communion – those things just aren’t possible in here.
One day i’m going to get out of here: and on that day, the first thing i’ll do will be to go to church to give thanks to God for what he’s done for me
‘I do receive Bible Alive, which is sent to all prisoners on death row, and I read it. And it helps so much to know that there are other Christians out there praying for me, and doing what they can to help me.’
Although the next stage in Linda’s case is likely to be the setting of an execution date, forces are galvanising to help her. In Houston, her case has been taken on by top legal firm Baker Botts; her lawyer there, Michael Goldberg, is working for free because he believes her situation is so obviously unjust. ‘I’ve never seen a case that cries out for justice as much as this one does,’ he says. In particular, he laments the poor job done by the original defence lawyer at Linda’s trial – so many opportunities were denied Linda legally that, in effect, she wasn’t given a fair trial in his view. ‘Linda wasn’t given a chance to present a proper defence, and that completely goes against the American system of justice,’ he says. ‘If she’d had that, I’m convinced there’s no way she would have been convicted and sentenced to death.’
Meanwhile the British consul-general in Houston, Andrew Millar, says he is committed to continuing to do all he can for Linda who is, he says, ‘a lovely lady’. One of the many missed opportunities in her case was that, had the British government been informed of her predicament when she was arrested, they would have made the crucial moves to ensure she had good legal representation. ‘But unfortunately my mum didn’t realise that telling the British government was something she could do, and her lawyer didn’t tell her that either,’ says Jovelle.
According to Mr Millar, the best chance Linda has of a reprieve will be a major campaign in the UK – and the Catholic community could be in the vanguard of this.
The best chance Linda has of a reprieve will be a major campaign in the UK
‘We’ve already put a lot of effort into her case since learning about it, and we’ll continue to do all we can,’ he says. ‘We oppose the death penalty around the world, but we also feel that Linda is in a vulnerable position because she didn’t get the support from us when she was entitled to it.’
Meanwhile back at Mountain View, Linda is still smiling, still hopeful. ‘I believe in God, and ultimately that makes a whole world of a difference,’ she says. ‘But this is the moment when I need support. I need it from the British government, I need it from the leaders of the Catholic church – and I need it from my fellow Catholics too.
‘Because one day I’m going to get out of here: and on that day, the first thing I’ll do will be to go to church to give thanks to God for what he’s done for me. And the next thing I’ll do is go and hug Jovelle and those grandsons I’ve never hugged.
‘That day is the day I live for.’
To find out what you can do to help Linda Carty, go to:
www.alivepublishing.co.uk/save-linda-carty where you can sign our petition and also hear a message
from Linda for Faith Today readers.