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Saturday, July 8, 2017

Executing Women

     In 1997, 36-year-old Kimberly LaGayle McCarthy, a nursing home occupational therapist living in Lancaster, Texas fifteen miles south of Dallas, was hooked on crack cocaine. Married to Aaron Michaels, the founder of the New Black Panther Party, McCarthy possessed a criminal record that included forgery, prostitution, and theft of services. She and Michaels had one child, a son.

     On July 21, 1997, McCarthy telephoned her neighbor, Dorothy Booth, to inform her she was coming to Booth's house to borrow a cup of sugar. In reality, the purpose of the visit was to murder and rob the 71-year-old former El Centro College psychology professor. In Booth's home, McCarthy stabbed the victim five times with a 10-inch butcher's knife before repeatedly clubbing the dying woman with a heavy candelabrum.

     In stealing the victim's diamond wedding ring, McCarthy used the big knife to cut off Booth's finger. In possession of the murder victim's credit cards and ring, McCarthy drove from the murder scene to a pawn shop in Booth's Mercedes-Benz. The next day, police officers booked McCarthy into the Dallas County Jail on the charge of murder.

     The McCarthy case went to trial a year after the brutal, cold-blooded murder. The defendant's attorney tried to convince the jury that the victim had been murdered by a pair of unnamed drug dealers. The prosecution, however, linked the defendant to the murder knife through DNA analysis. Following a short deliberation, the jury found McCarthy guilty as charged.

     At the sentencing hearing, the Dallas County District Attorney, through DNA evidence, connected McCarthy to two similar murders committed in December 1988. Maggie Harding, 81-years-old, had been stabbed with a knife then clubbed with a meat tenderizing mallet. Jettie Lucas, 85, had been stabbed then beaten with a claw hammer. Both victims had been robbed. (Although indicted in both of these cases, McCarthy did not go to trial for these murders.)

     On November 24, 1998, the judge who had presided over McCarthy's murder trial, sentenced her to die by lethal injection. McCarthy would spend the next fifteen years living on death row at the Texas state prison in Huntsville, Texas.

     As is common practice in death penalty cases, McCarthy's legal team filed a series of appeals. In 2002, a federal appellate court granted McCarthy a new trial. The Dallas County District Attorney, relying on the DNA evidence connecting the defendant to the Booth murder scene, re-tried McCarthy a few months after the appeals court decision. The second jury required little time in finding her guilty. The judge presiding over the second trial sentenced her to death.

     In July 2002, four years after Dorothy Booth's murder, McCarthy's attorneys, having exhausted all other appellate remedies, asked the United States Supreme Court to hear their client's appeal. The high court declined to entertain the condemned woman's case. The prison authorities in Texas set McCarthy's execution for January 29, 2013.

     On January 29, 2013, a few hours before McCarthy's appointment with Huntsville's executioner, the governor granted the 52-year-old prisoner a temporary stay of execution. A month before the new execution date, April 3, 2013, the lethal injection was re-scheduled for June 26, 2013.

     At 6:27 in the evening of June 26, 2013, twenty minutes after the executioner administered the lethal dose, a doctor pronounced Kimberly McCarthy dead. The execution was witnessed by the murder victim's daughter, granddaughter, and godson. The executed woman's attorney, University of Texas Law Professor Maurie Levin, told reporters that her client's case had been plagued by "shameful errors" of racial bias during the jury selection phase of McCarthy's trials. Levin also claimed that McCarthy's had been denied effective legal representation.

     Kimberly McCarthy was the first woman executed in the United States since 2010. Thirteen women, since 1976, have been put to death. During this period, executioners across the country dispatched more than 1,300 men. Nationwide, there are about 63 women on death row. 

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