US woman seeks last-minute death penalty reprieve

WASHINGTON (AFP) - Kimberly McCarthy, set on Tuesday to become the first woman executed in the United States since 2010, has sought a last-minute reprieve from the Texas governor.

McCarthy's lawyers asked Governor Rick Perry to issue a 30-day reprieve because of the racial bias they argued impacted the case.

McCarthy, 51, is black. Her victim, 70-year-old retired professor Dorothy Booth, was white.

"The unacceptable disparate impact of race on the administration of the death penalty in Texas has become increasingly well established," her lawyers wrote.

They noted that despite the fact that her home county is 22.5 per cent black, only one non-white juror judged McCarthy and three non-whites jurors "were unilaterally excluded by the state despite being fully qualified to serve". They further argued that 42 per cent of people sentenced to death in Dallas county were black, while 70 per cent of the 24 men exonerated with DNA evidence in the same county were African-Americans.

"A remedy is not only warranted, but demanded," her lawyers argued in a letter dated Monday and obtained on Tuesday.

McCarthy - who has been on death row for 14 years - is scheduled to be executed at 6pm (5am Singapore time) after the US Supreme Court rejected her final appeal, prison officials said.

She will be just the 13th woman executed since the death penalty was reinstated in the United States in 1976.

McCarthy was convicted of forcing her way into her elderly neighbour's home near Dallas under the pretext of borrowing some sugar in 1997, court records show. She then smashed Mrs Booth in the face with a candle stick, stabbed her five times and cut off her finger to steal her diamond ring.

McCarthy drove off in Mrs Booth's Mercedes and tried to buy some crack, court documents showed. She also used Mrs Booth's credit cards at least four times and pawned her wedding ring for US$200 (S$246) before she was caught.

Prosecutors also accused her of killing two other elderly people.

She was sentenced to death in 1998, saw her conviction overturned on appeal and then was convicted and condemned again in a second trial in 2002.

"There's a good chance that she would not be sentenced to death if tried now," said Mr Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Centre (DPIC). "A case like this involving apparent drug addiction and other mitigating factors might well have been settled without the death penalty."

Texas was sentencing as many as 40 people to death a year before the courts began providing juries with the alternative sentence of life without parole. That number has now since dropped to about eight people a year, Mr Dieter said.

McCarthy will be the fourth woman executed in Texas since 1976, out of a total of 493. Nine other women are among the 304 people on the state's death row.

A dozen women were among the 1,321 people executed since 1976, according to the DPIC. Of the 3,199 people on death row as of Oct 1, 63 were women and 42 per cent were black.

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