Texas Attorney Jerry Guerinot has made quite a name for himself for his work in capital trials. One blog dubbed him “America’s most lethal attorney.” Mr. Guerinot’s work has even made him known internationally. In 2007, David Rose of the UK newspaper, The Observer, reported that of the 39 capital trials he has tried, 20 of the defendants were sent to death row. These statistics would suggest a lethally efficient prosecutor, befitting of membership in the macabre “Silver Needle Society.” Such would indeed be the case—if Mr. Guerinot were a prosecutor. Mr. Guerinot is a defense attorney.
In his concurrence to Furman v. Georgia (1972) 408 U.S. 238, 309, the decision that briefly ended capital punishment in the United States, Justice Stewart wrote that “death sentences are cruel and unusual in the same way that being struck by lightning is cruel and unusual.” If Justice Stewart’s assessment continues to be descriptive of capital punishment in the post-Furman era, then being represented by Mr. Guerinot would be the equivalent of standing under a tree in an electrical storm, with a lightning rod in your hand—and aluminum foil wrapped around your body.
Mr. Guerinot has once again been making headlines. This time it is because the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari to Linda Carty, a British citizen on death row for her alleged involvement in a plot to kidnap and murder Joana Rodriguez and to claim Rodriguez’s son as her own. Mr. Guerinot represented Ms. Carty at her 2007 Texas trial. According to a recent New York Times article, during his representation, Mr. Guerinot spoke with Carty for a mere 15 minutes prior to the trial, failed to interview key witnesses, did not advise Carty’s common law husband of his right to claim a marital privilege during his testimony for the prosecution, and did not contact the British Consulate. Ms. Carty’s cause has been taken up by the likes of filmmaker Steve Humphries and socialite-cum-activist Bianca Jagger. Reprieve, an international organization dedicated to ending capital punishment, has even begun an online petition to save Ms. Carty.
But as easy as it is to accuse Mr. Guerinot of incompetence or to make jokes at his expense, at the very least we should appreciate that there are people to represent the condemned. Because of the heavy emotional toll on those who represent defendants in capital cases, few are willing to do so. Whether or not Mr. Guerinot’s representation was imperfect, we should be thankful for his work—and equally thankful that he does not practice in California.