(Courtesy of Flickr user David Shankbone)
Last night, just hours after Wendy Davis’s historic filibuster of a repressive anti-abortion bill ended in Austin, the great state of Texas set a modern milestone with its 500th execution, i.e., state murder, since 1976, when the death penalty was re-instituted in America. The prisoner, Kimberly McCarthy, 52—convicted of killing and robbing neighbor Dorothy Booth to subsidize her crack habit—was black (nothing unusual about that) and a woman (still a rarity).
Since the 1970s, Texas has carried out 37 percent of all of the executions in the USA. And nearly 400 of the state’s 500 have been ordered by governors Bush and Perry. But the total has declined in recent years, as opposition to the death penalty has grown in the state, and nationally.
In the latest case (as summed up by The Dallas Morning News):
Maurie Levin, McCarthy’s attorney, said McCarthy’s case was plagued by “shameful errors” of racial bias during jury selection by Dallas County prosecutors and ineffective assistance of counsel.
McCarthy was black. Booth was white.
Levin said the Texas courts’ refusal to examine McCarthy’s last-minute appeals this week about those issues “reflect problems that are central to the administration of the death penalty as a whole.”
Levin, a University of Texas law professor, has represented defendants sentenced to death since 1983. She is co-director of the school’s Capital Punishment Clinic.
McCarthy’s execution, as an “emblem of Texas’ 500th execution, is something all Texans should be ashamed of,” Levin said. Dallas County has a history of racial discrimination during jury selection.
With the execution about to go forward, ABC News chatted with the former warden at Huntsville who holds the modern record for overseeing 140 executions. He offered no regrets. Of the lethal injection executions, he said, “All you’re going to do there is watch a guy go to sleep.”
Michael Graczyk, an Associated Press reporter in Texas, is famous for witnessing hundreds of executions (I’ve interviewed him myself for a book, see below). It’s telling that the number is so high he has lost count. He wrote this week, “About once every three weeks, I watch someone die.” But in his piece he offered no strong opinions on capital punishment, beyond the fact that watching someone die leaves strong “impressions.”
(See here for my ebook Dead Reckoning on the history of capital punishment in America to the present day, covering key issues.)
Read Katha Pollitt’s take on Wendy Davis, superhero.