No Comment — May 20, 2010, 2:40 pm

The Texas Death Penalty Express

The New York Times‘s Adam Liptak brings us another exhibit in the geek show that is the Texas criminal justice system: a criminal defense attorney named Jerry Guerinot, whom Texas judges just love to appoint to handle capital cases.

Twenty of Mr. Guerinot’s clients have been sentenced to death. That is more people than are awaiting execution in about half of the 35 states that have the death penalty… So what is Mr. Guerinot’s secret? It seems to boil down to a failure to conduct even rudimentary investigations, said David R. Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston and the litigation director of the Texas Defender Service, which represents death row inmates, including not a few of Mr. Guerinot’s former clients. “He doesn’t even pick the low-hanging fruit which is hitting him in the head as he’s walking under the tree,” Mr. Dow said.

Liptak reviews the case of Linda Carty, a 51-year-old British subject who recently got the death penalty express treatment with Guerinot as her court-appointed defense counsel.

“It is no exaggeration to suggest that Mr. Guerinot has perhaps the worst record of any capital lawyer in the United States,” [documentary filmmaker Steve] Humphries said in a supporting brief urging the court to hear Ms. Carty’s case. Prosecutors said Ms. Carty had orchestrated a macabre plot to kidnap and murder Joana Rodriguez and claim Ms. Rodriguez’s newborn son as her own. The evidence against Ms. Carty consisted mostly of testimony from four men said to be her accomplices, who were described by a prosecutor as “an armed robber, a dope dealer, a drive-by shooter and another armed robber.”

Mr. Guerinot did not visit Ms. Carty for three months after he was appointed to represent her. Ms. Carty, in a video interview with Mr. Humphries, described her meeting with Mr. Guerinot just weeks before her trial: “I met this guy for less than 15 minutes. Once.” “Basically, he’s an undertaker for the State of Texas.”

Mr. Guerinot never interviewed Jose Corona, who was Ms. Carty’s common-law husband but gave powerful testimony about a motive for her actions — that she desperately wanted a baby. Mr. Corona later said he did not want to help the prosecution but believed he had no choice. “It was never explained to me that there is a marital privilege, and under the privilege I had the right to refuse to testify,” he said in a sworn statement. Mr. Corona added that he would have appeared as a defense witness had he been asked. “I would have testified that Linda did not deserve the death penalty and that I do not believe she is an aggressive person or a threat to society,” he said.

Texas courts reviewing all of this concluded that the conviction was valid. Indeed, the proceedings only seem to burnish Mr. Guerinot’s reputation in their eyes. He plays an essential role in their system by creating the illusion that defendants have competent defense representation. It appears that Mr. Guerinot represented 2,000 defendants in felony cases in 2007-08, a fact that speaks for itself with respect to the quality of the representation he provided.

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