AUSTIN, Texas -- An appeals court Wednesday overturned a woman's conviction and death sentence in the slaying of her neighbor, saying police violated her rights by using a statement she made after asking for a lawyer.
Kimberly McCarthy, one of seven women on Texas' death row, was granted a new trial.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ruled that McCarthy, 40, invoked her constitutional right to speak with an attorney after her arrest, but that a Dallas police officer later questioned her and obtained a statement used against her at trial.
"Although we are slow to overturn the verdict of a jury, when fundamental constitutional protections are violated, however innocently, we must uphold the integrity of that law," the court said.
Douglas Parks, McCarthy's attorney, said: "I didn't think they had any choice in the matter if they were going to follow the law."
"We certainly hate to lose a case that we fought so hard and it has gone to conviction," said Lori Ordiway, chief of the appeals division in the Dallas County district attorney's office.
Prosecutors have not decided whether to ask the appeals court for a new hearing, Ordiway said.
McCarthy was convicted of the 1997 stabbing and bludgeoning death of her 71-year-old neighbor, Dorothy Booth, a retired college professor. Police said she robbed the woman to support a crack habit.
Lancaster police officers who arrested McCarthy three days after the slaying stopped interrogating her once she said she wanted to speak with a lawyer.
After she was transferred to the main Dallas County jail, McCarthy's husband asked a Dallas officer he knew to informally talk with his wife, Parks said. Instead, the officer obtained a written confession, he said.
Prosecutors argued that the officer did not know McCarthy had invoked her right to speak with an attorney.