Texas executes 500th person
HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) - Family and friends of Dorothy Booth waited 16 years - enduring two trials and countless appeals - for the measure of closure that came Wednesday evening when the woman who brutally beat and fatally stabbed their loved one was executed for her crime.
Because Kimberly McCarthy's execution marked the 500th in Texas since the state resumed carrying out capital punishment in 1982, it drew increased attention from protesters and the media. But for Booth's loved ones, it was personal.
"It doesn't matter if this is the 500th execution or not," said Randall Browning, Booth's godson. "We're just thinking about the justice that was promised to us by the state of Texas."
McCarthy, who was put to death Wednesday evening, 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 Booth, a 71-year-old retired college psychology professor who was McCarthy's neighbor. 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 the woman's wedding ring.
Booth's was among three slayings linked to McCarthy, a former nursing home therapist who became addicted to crack cocaine.
McCarthy was pronounced dead at 6:37 p.m. CDT, 20 minutes after Texas prison officials began administering a single, lethal dose of pentobarbital.
In her final statement, McCarthy did not mention her status as the 500th inmate to be executed or acknowledge Booth or her family.
"This is not a loss. This is a win. You know where I'm going. I'm going home to be with Jesus. Keep the faith. I love you all," she said.
After the execution, Donna Aldred, Booth's daughter, reading a statement to reporters, said her mother "was an incredible person who was taken before her time."
Outside the prison, about 40 protesters had gathered, carrying signs reading, "Protest the 500th Execution" and "Stop All Executions." In recent years, Texas executions have generally drawn fewer than 10 protesters. A handful of counterdemonstrators who support the death penalty also gathered Wednesday in another area outside the prison.
As the hour for the execution approached, protesters began chanting and sang the old spiritual "Wade in the Water."
For Texas prison officials, this was just another execution.
"We simply carried out the court's order," said Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark.
In a statement, Maurie Levin, McCarthy's attorney, said, "500 is 500 too many. I look forward to the day when we recognize that this pointless and barbaric practice, imposed almost exclusively on those who are poor and disproportionately on people of color, has no place in a civilized society."
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.
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 1976. In that same period, more than 1,300 male inmates were executed nationwide, 496 of them in Texas. Virginia is a distant second, nearly 400 executions behind.
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, and her victim was 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.
McCarthy blamed the crime on two drug dealers, but there was no evidence either existed.
DNA evidence also tied McCarthy to the December 1988 slayings of 81-year-old Maggie Harding and 85-year-old Jettie Lucas.
McCarthy, who denied any involvement in the attacks, was indicted but not tried for those slayings.
McCarthy was 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.
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