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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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

Artwork by Imre Kinszki © Imre Kinszki Estate
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Ashley arrived for her prenatal appointment at Black Hills Obstetrics and Gynecology, in Rapid City, South Dakota, wearing a black zip-up hoodie and Converse sneakers.1 To explain her absence from work that morning — a Tuesday in April 2015 — she had told a co-worker that she was having “female issues.” She was twenty-five years old and eight weeks pregnant. She had been separated from her husband, with whom she had a five-year-old son, for the better part of a year. The guy who’d gotten her pregnant was someone she’d met at the gym, and he’d made it abundantly clear that he wanted nothing more to do with her. Ashley found herself hoping that the doctor would discover some kind of fetal defect, so that her decision would be easier. She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. “Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.”

In the exam room, she perched on the table with her feet crossed at the ankles, her blond hair brushing the back of her pink hospital gown. “I don’t know what’s available for me here,” she told her doctor, Katherine Degen, who sat facing her on a stool. “I figured nothing.”

 Some names and identifying details have been changed. 

“Big, fat zero, unfortunately,” Degen said, making a 0 with her fingers. The last doctor who provided abortions in Rapid City retired in 1986, three years before Ashley was born.

The baby was due in November, when Ashley, who was a nurse, hoped to be enrolled in a graduate program to become a nurse practitioner. Getting pregnant as a teenager had forced her to put that dream on hold, but she had thought that she was finally ready; she had even submitted her application shortly before the March 15 deadline. For the first time in her adult life, Ashley felt as if her plans were coming together. Then she missed her period.

It would be too difficult to attend school as a single mother of two, Ashley knew. She had made an appointment for three weeks from now at the nearest abortion clinic, in Billings, Montana, 318 miles away. But just a week and a half ago, her husband had said he wanted to get back together and offered to raise the child as his own. Was it a sign that she was meant to continue the pregnancy? As a rule, Ashley approached her problems with resolve. She was capable and tough; she liked shooting guns and lifting weights. She kept track of her stats and checked off her goals as she achieved them one by one. Yet the dilemma before her had shaken her confidence. She leaned back and turned to watch the ultrasound screen. The black-and-white image danced. A sharp, fast thumping emerged from the machine. As Degen removed the wand, Ashley wiped the corner of her eye.

Photograph (detail) by Balazs Gardi
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"She glanced across the waiting room at a television playing a birth-control ad and laughed darkly. 'Jesus, Lord, it would be so nice if someone just pushed me down a flight of stairs.'"
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