Texas executions reach record 500

2013-06-27 11:04
A corrections officer watches as demonstrators protest the execution of Kimberly McCarthy outside the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit. (David J Phillip, AP)

A corrections officer watches as demonstrators protest the execution of Kimberly McCarthy outside the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit. (David J Phillip, AP)

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Washington - The US state of Texas on Wednesday executed its 500th convict since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, a record in a country where capital punishment is in decline elsewhere.

Kimberly McCarthy, aged 52, was declared dead by lethal injection at 18:37 (23:37) GMT in the "Walls Unit", a red brick prison in the small town of Huntsville, prison officials said.

After 14 years on death row, time stopped for the former crack addict who was condemned to death for the savage murder of 71-year-old retired college professor Dorothy Booth in 1997.

McCarthy fatally stabbed Booth with a butcher's knife and beat her with a candelabra before, police said, she cut off Booth's finger to take her wedding ring.

"As the lethal drugs began to take effect her last words were 'God is good'," the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said in a press release.

McCarthy, who is black, received two last-minute reprieves in January and April due to allegations of racial discrimination during the selection of what became her all-white jury.

'Sad, horrific'

But after a Texas appeals court refused to reopen the case, she ran out of both options and time.

"If there was something to appeal, I would," her attorney Maurie Levin said shortly before the execution.

"For procedural reasons, the claims were never reviewed on the merits."

About 1 336 people have been executed across the United States since the Supreme Court lifted a moratorium on the application of the death penalty in 1976. More than a third of the executions were carried out in Texas.

"It's very sad, horrific - like in the middle-ages," said Gloria Rubac of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement.

"At some point, Texas has to come to the 21st century, the world is watching us."

13th woman to be executed

Rubac was among around 30 death penalty opponents gathered outside the prison for a vigil as McCarthy's execution time approached.

They held signs declaring "death penalty is racist", "end executions in Texas" and "execute justice not people" as they stood behind yellow tape in a special zone set up across the street by prison officials.

"This 500th execution has put a spotlight on Texas, but I hope that light is going to bring some fresh air here, put pressure to make a change," Sheryl Smith, a pastor with the United Methodist Church who attended the vigil, said after McCarthy's death was announced.

McCarthy is just the 13th woman to be executed in the United States since the death penalty was reinstated. Texas has executed three other women and eight women are currently on death row in the Lone Star state.

"It's a tragedy," activist Dennis Longmire, a university professor who lives in Huntsville, said in a telephone interview from the vigil.

"But the 500th execution should be receiving as much attention as the first one and the 501st one. And tonight's execution is no less tragic than the next one or the one we had two weeks ago."

3 125 on death row

Opinion polls consistently show that between 60 and 65% of Americans back capital punishment, indicating that support goes beyond the roughly 50-50 left-right divide in US electoral politics.

However, juries and state officials have become increasingly less willing to impose the death penalty.

There are currently 3 125 convicts on death row in the United States and McCarthy was the 17th prisoner put to death in the first six months of 2013, according to the Death Penalty Information Centre, an academic watchdog.

But numbers are dropping: Forty-three people were executed in 2012 down from a peak of 71 in 2002.

American juries are also imposing capital punishment in fewer cases, with only 78 death sentences last year, down by around three-quarters since the 1990s - although violent crime is also down.

While 32 of the 50 US states still have the death penalty on the books many have imposed a de facto moratorium, with few or none of the executions carried out and convicts languishing on death row.

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