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USA: call for 'shameful' 500th execution in Texas tonight to be stopped

African American woman’s trial was held with overwhelmingly white jury

Amnesty International has described the planned 500th execution in the US state of Texas tonight as a “shameful milestone” and is calling on the Texan governor Rick Perry to stop the execution.

Kimberly McCarthy, a 52-year-old African American woman who was sentenced to death for murder in a 2002 trial, is set to be executed by lethal injection in Huntsville in Texas at 6pm local time (1am tonight UK time), barring a stay of her execution. 

If tonight’s execution goes ahead, it would be the 500th execution carried out by Texas in modern times, almost four times the number of executions carried out by any other US state. The state of Virginia, with 110 executions since 1976, is the next most prolific capital punishment state.

Among the 499 people already put to death in Texas since 1976, there have been prisoners suffering from severe mental illness or intellectual disability, and teenage defendants who had been provided with woefully inadequate legal representation. In several cases, executions went ahead despite convictions based on flawed or questionable evidence.

Amnesty has produced a new 13-page briefing - USA, a Deadly Distinction. 500th Execution in Texas - detailing Texas’s use of the death penalty in the last four decades:…

Amnesty International USA’s Campaign to Abolish the Death Penalty Director Brian Evans said:

“Capital punishment in Texas has been arbitrary, biased and prone to error.

“It is a profound and irreversible injustice. The death penalty is cruel, inhuman and degrading, and a violation of the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

“Amnesty International recognises that attitudes may be shifting in Texas, as jury-issued death sentences in recent years have been at historic lows. However, among other things, there is reason to be concerned about the continuing influence of race in capital justice.”

McCarthy’s death sentence was for the murder of a 71-year-old white neighbour Dorothy Booth, who was stabbed to death in 1997. At the 2002 trial - which was a retrial - the jury consisted of 11 white members and one person of colour. At the jury selection, only four out of 64 prospective members of the jury were black, and three of these were dismissed by the  prosecution - a decision which was never challenged by McCarthy’s lawyer.

Seven of the nine people sentenced to death in Texas last year, and six of the seven executions this year have been African Americans. While only 12.2% of the population of Texas is black, African American inmates make up nearly 40% of the 283 inmates currently on death row in the state. In one notorious county of Texas - Harris County - African Americans account for more than 70% of death row inmates and less than 20% of the general population. For example, in 1997 Duane Buck was sentenced to death after a Harris County jury heard “expert” evidence that Buck was likely to pose a future danger of violent behaviour because of the colour of his skin.

Brian Evans added:

“This alarming suggestion illustrates just one aspect of the acute injustice in the Texas capital punishment system. After more than 30 years and 499 executions, it is time for Texas to break old habits and join the trend towards abolition.”

Trend toward abolition:
As Amnesty showed in its most recent yearly report on the use of the death penalty worldwide, the international trend is away from the use of the death penalty. Meanwhile, five US states have legislated to abolish the death penalty in the past six years - New Jersey (2007), New Mexico (2009), Illinois (2010), Connecticut (2012), and just last month, the state of Maryland.

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