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Texas prepares for 500th execution, a woman

June 26, 2013|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • Kimberly McCarthy, convicted of killing a neighbor during a robbery, was executed Wednesday.
Kimberly McCarthy, convicted of killing a neighbor during a robbery, was… (Texas Department of Corrections )

Houston —

On Wednesday, Texas is scheduled to execute its 500th prisoner since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976 — and the inmate is a woman.

Kimberly McCarthy, 52, a former occupational therapist, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1998 in the beating and stabbing death of her 71-year-old neighbor during a robbery.

McCarthy was originally scheduled to be put to death Jan. 29, but received a stay until April, when her execution was again postponed.

Her attorney told The Times on Wednesday that McCarthy had exhausted her appeals, the most recent having been rejected by an appeals court on Tuesday.

The Texas Attorney General’s Office issued a statement detailing McCarthy’s record and plans for her execution, which was scheduled for 6 p.m. A spokesman declined to comment further.

McCarthy would be the 13th woman executed in the United States and the fourth in Texas since the Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976. During that time, more than 1,300 men have been executed nationwide.

“She has become a symbol because she is the 500th execution,” said McCarthy’s attorney, Maurie Levin. “Perhaps that is fitting, perhaps that is extra shameful. It certainly should be a reminder to anybody that the system is profoundly problematic and is not one we should be comfortable with.”

Texas has enforced the death penalty more regularly than any other state, executing more people than the next six states combined: Virginia, Oklahoma, Florida, Missouri, Alabama and Georgia.

But that wasn’t always the case. Texas executed fewer than 10 people a year until 1992, when executions increased under then-Gov. Ann Richards, a Democrat. The current governor, Republican Rick Perry, has presided over more than 200 executions, more than any other governor in modern history.

The executions are carried out at the Walls Unit at Huntsville Prison, about 70 miles north of Houston.

Levin, who teaches at the University of Texas at Austin’s law school’s capital punishment clinic, was on her way to Huntsville on Wednesday afternoon to meet with McCarthy.

She said she had tried to appeal that McCarthy, who is black, received ineffective assistance from her trial attorney, particularly during jury selection when several black panelists were eliminated, leaving only one on the jury.

“Her case, the claims we raised of ineffective assistance of counsel and discrimination, race bias in the selection of her jury, reflects problems that are rampant in the death penalty system. It just adds shame on shame,” Levin said.

Unlike the most famous woman put to death in Texas — Karla Faye Tucker, 38, a white, born-again Christian who drew support from celebrities and religious leaders before she was executed in 1998 — McCarthy has not become a high-profile case.

“She presents a very different picture than Karla Faye Tucker,” Levin said. Even though McCarthy is  “an extraordinarily spiritual person like Karla Faye,” Levin said, her s case “highlights race and the impact of race” on death penalty cases.

“This should urge us to reflect on how comfortable we are in pursuing and supporting a system that is clearly racist and inflicted disproportionately on people who are poor and people of color,” Levin said.

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molly.Hennessy-Fiske@latimes.com

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