Race May Be an Issue in Texas Woman’s Execution

July 1, 2013 in Top News, U.S. News

Members of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement Meeting at the S.H.A.P.E. Community Center

Members of the Texas Death Penalty Abolition Movement meet at the S.H.A.P.E. Community Center Jan, 29 2013. They received as very good news Kimberly McCarthy’s stay of execution that day, announced while preparing to travel to the Huntsville, Texas death house. Source: TDPAM.

Dallas — Early morning June, 26, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied a motion by Kimberly McCarthy’s attorney to stay her execution. Later that day, she became the 500th person Texas put to death since the state resumed carrying out capital punishment in 1982. She was pronounced dead from execution by lethal injection at 6:37 p.m.

McCarthy, purportedly a former cocaine addict, was convicted in 2002 of killing her 71-year-old neighbor, retired professor Dorothy Booth, using a butcher knife and a candelabra. Maurie Levin, McCarthy’s attorney, argued her conviction and death sentence were the result of a process infected with racial discrimination in the application for a stay of execution.

Discrimination has historically been a part of the judicial system in Texas.

A training manual from 1963 instructed prosecutors in Dallas, “Do not take Jews, Negroes, Dago’s, Mexicans or a member of any minority race on a jury, no matter how rich or well educated.”

As recently as 2005, the Supreme Court set aside a murder conviction in the case of Miller-El v. Dretke handed down by a Texas court. They judged apparent the prosecutors had engaged in what is called the “Texas Shuffle”. This is the process by which the order of prospective jurors is arranged so that people of color are sent to the back of the line.

Professor David C. Baldus — who died June 14 — and two colleagues, did a widely-cited study entitled “Comparative Review of Death Sentences: An Empirical Study of the Georgia Experience”. It examined more than 2,000 homicides in Georgia beginning in 1972. Black defendants were found 1.7 times more likely to receive the death penalty than white defendants. Murderers of white victims were found 4.3 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who killed blacks.

Related to the study was the 1987 Supreme Court decision in the case of McCleskey v. Kemp. It involved a black man from Georgia, Warren McCleskey. He was sentenced to die for murdering a white Atlanta police officer. McCleskey’s counsel argued the Baldus study established his death sentence was tainted by racial bias. In a 5–4 decision the Supreme Court ruled general patterns of discrimination do not prove racial discrimination operates in particular cases.

Since 1976, there has been but one case involving a convicted white murderer and a black victim in Texas.

Gov. Rick Perry has been a forceful advocate of capital punishment. He has presided over more executions than any governor in any state, ever.

During Perry’s campaign for the presidency he said, “The state of Texas has a very thoughtful, a very clear process in place of which — when someone commits the most heinous of crimes against our citizens, they get a fair hearing, they go through an appellate process, they go up to the Supreme Court of the United States, if that’s required.

“But in the state of Texas, if you come into our state and you kill one of our children, you kill a police officer, you’re involved with another crime and you kill one of our citizens, you will face the ultimate justice in the state of Texas, and that is, you will be executed.”

Texans appear to agree with Perry’s sentiments. The cost of death penalty cases is $2.4 million. The cost of administrative segregation for 40 years is $800,000. Only 21 percent of the Texas population disapprove of the death penalty, however.

Earlier in 2013, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins proposed a law known as the Racial Justice Act. It is modeled after similar laws in North Carolina and Kentucky allowing death row inmates to appeal conviction and sentencing if they can demonstrate racism has been a factor in the process. The bill was left to die in committee when the Texas legislature adjourned.