Wednesday's execution of Kimberly McCarthy, 52, for the 1997 stabbing death of her neighbor will mark Texas' 500th execution since 1976 and the 261st during Gov. Rick Perry's tenure. Those statistics represent the largest number of executions in any state and the largest under any recent governor in the United States. Perry has rarely used his power to grant clemency, granting 31 death row commutations, most of them — 28 — the result of a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision banning capital punishment for minors.
Despite lawyers' attempts to stay McCarthy's execution, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals declined to review her second application for a writ of habeas corpus and denied her a reprieve on Tuesday.
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Kristin Houlé, executive director of the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, said that the marking of the state's 500th execution should be a time to reflect on "all the flaws and failures that exist" in the state's criminal justice system.
Many of those on death row who are now being scheduled for execution were sentenced decades ago, she said. The dwindling number of death penalty sentences doled out by juries today indicate that many of those offenders would not have been sentenced to death if they were charged and tried now, she added.
According to a Texas Department of Criminal Justice report, Texas juries during the 2012 fiscal year sent just five defendants to death row compared with 94 who were sent to prison for life without the possibility of parole.
"Gov. Perry and the vast majority of Texans agree that the death penalty is a fitting and constitutional punishment, reserved for the most heinous of crimes," Perry spokesman Josh Havens said.