Texas Carries Out Its 500th Execution Since the Death Penalty Was Re-Introduced amid Protests and Accusations of Racism
James Nye, Daily Mail (London), June 27, 2013
Texas marked a solemn moment in criminal justice Wednesday evening, executing its 500th inmate since it resumed carrying out capital punishment in 1982.
Kimberly McCarthy, who was put to death for the murder of her 71-year-old neighbor, was also the first woman executed in the U.S. in nearly three years.
McCarthy, 52, was executed for the 1997 robbery, beating and fatal stabbing of retired college psychology professor Dorothy Booth.
Booth had agreed to give McCarthy a cup of sugar before she was attacked with a butcher knife and candelabra at her home in Lancaster, about 15 miles south of Dallas. Authorities say McCarthy cut off Booth’s finger to remove her wedding ring.
It was among three slayings linked to McCarthy, a former nursing home therapist who became addicted to crack cocaine.
Texas has carried out nearly 40 percent of the more than 1,300 executions in the U.S. since the Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976.
The state’s standing stems from its size as the nation’s second-most populous state as well as its tradition of tough justice for killers.
With increased debate in recent years over wrongful convictions, some states have halted the practice entirely. However, 32 states have the death penalty on the books.
Though Texas still carries out executions, lawmakers have provided more sentencing options for juries and courts have narrowed the cases for which death can be sought.
Outside the prison, about 40 protesters gathered, carrying signs saying ‘Death Penalty: Racist and Anti-Poor,’ ‘Stop All Executions Now’ and ‘Stop Killing to Stop Killings.’
As the hour for the execution approached, protesters began chanting and sang the old Negro spiritual “Wade in the Water.”
Executions of women are infrequent. McCarthy was the 13th woman put to death in the U.S. and the fourth in Texas, the nation’s busiest death penalty state, since the Supreme Court in 1976 allowed capital punishment to resume.
McCarthy’s lawyer, Maurie Levin, had asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to halt the punishment, arguing black jurors were improperly excluded from McCarthy’s trial by Dallas County prosecutors.
McCarthy is black; her victim white. All but one of her 12 jurors were white. The court denied McCarthy’s appeals, ruling her claims should have been raised previously.
Prosecutors said McCarthy stole Booth’s Mercedes and drove to Dallas, pawned the woman’s wedding ring she removed from the severed finger for $200 and went to a crack house to buy cocaine. Evidence also showed she used Booth’s credit cards at a liquor store.
DNA evidence also tied McCarthy to the December 1988 slayings of 81-year-old Maggie Harding and 85-year-old Jettie Lucas. Harding was stabbed and beaten with a meat tenderizer, while Lucas was beaten with both sides of a claw hammer and stabbed.
McCarthy, who denied any involvement in the attacks, was indicted but not tried for those slayings.
McCarthy is a former wife of Aaron Michaels, founder of the New Black Panther Party, and he testified on her behalf. They had separated before Booth’s slaying.
In January, McCarthy was just hours away from being put to death when a Dallas judge delayed her execution.
McCarthy was the eighth Texas prisoner executed this year. She was among 10 women on death row in Texas, but the only one with an execution date. Seven male Texas prisoners have executions scheduled in the coming months.
Texas has been by far the most prolific U.S. state in executing prisoners, leaving Virginia a distant second with 110 executions, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
McCarthy, 52, was convicted of killing Dorothy Booth, 71, at Booth’s home in Lancaster, Texas, in 1997. She is scheduled to die by lethal injection after 6 p.m. CDT (7:00 p.m. EDT) at a state prison in Huntsville.
Since January, a county judge postponed her execution twice to address appeals by lawyer Maurie Levin, who raised questions about possible racial discrimination in the selection of the jury that convicted her. McCarthy is African-American.
The issues in McCarthy’s case “reflect problems that are central to the administration of the death penalty as a whole,” Levin said. “For this to be the emblem of Texas’ 500th execution is something all Texans should be ashamed of.”
Eleven of the 12 Dallas County jurors who convicted McCarthy were white and eligible nonwhite jurors were excluded from serving, Levin’s appeal said.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied McCarthy’s request for a stay of execution on Monday, ruling that the issues should have been raised earlier. Levin’s request for reconsideration was also denied.
Fifty of the Texas executions since reinstatement of the death penalty have been from prosecutions in Dallas County, the second-highest of any county in the nation behind Harris County, which includes Houston. Dallas County has previously been accused of racial discrimination in jury selection.
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a black death row inmate convicted in the county was entitled to a new trial because of strong evidence of racial bias in jury selection during his 1986 trial.
McCarthy, who was linked to the murders of two other elderly women, was first convicted in 1998 for Booth’s murder, according to a case summary from the Texas Attorney General. She was accused of stabbing Booth five times and pawning her ring.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned that conviction in 2001 because no lawyer was present when she was questioned, even though she had asked for one, according to court documents. She was convicted and again sentenced to death after a second jury trial in 2002.
The state appeals court agreed with the second conviction and sentence in 2004.
McCarthy would be the 18th person executed in the United States so far this year and the eighth in Texas.