HUNTSVILLE, Texas — A Texas woman convicted of the gruesome slaying and robbery of her neighbor, a retired 71-year-old college psychology professor, is set to be the first woman put to death in the United States since 2010.
A Dallas County jury already found former nursing home therapist Kimberly McCarthy guilty of the 1997 killing when evidence at the punishment phase of her trial tied her to two similar murders a decade earlier.
"Once the jury heard about those other two, we were certainly in a deep hole," recalled McCarthy's lead trial attorney, Doug Parks. Jurors decided McCarthy should die.
Her execution, set for Tuesday evening, would be the first since a Virginia inmate, Teresa Lewis, became the 12th woman put to death since the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 allowed capital punishment to resume. In that same time, 1,309 men have been executed.
Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics compiled from 1980 through 2008 show women make up about 10 percent of homicide offenders nationwide. According to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, 3,146 people were on the nation's death rows as of last Oct. 1, and only 63 – 2 percent – were women.
The 51-year-old McCarthy also would be the first woman executed in Texas in more than eight years and the fourth overall in the state, which executes the most people in the nation – 492 prisoners since capital punishment resumed 30 years ago.
McCarthy, who is black, was condemned for the July 1997 killing of neighbor Dorothy Booth in Lancaster, about 15 miles south of Dallas. All but one of McCarthy's jurors were white.
McCarthy exhausted her court appeals, as the U.S. Supreme Court three weeks ago declined to review her case and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles last week turned down a clemency petition. On Friday, her attorneys asked Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins to delay the lethal injection, citing his interest in Texas adopting a law to allow death-row prisoners to base appeals on race. Watkins has not responded.
"It certainly doesn't make me happy," Parks said. "It's a fact of life. ... The reality is, with some exceptions, they're going to execute your client."
Evidence showed McCarthy phoned Booth to borrow a cup of sugar, then attacked Booth when she went to retrieve it. Booth was stabbed with a butcher knife, beaten with a large candle holder and robbed of a diamond wedding ring.
"(McCarthy) quite literally took the woman, put her left hand on a chopping block of the kitchen and then used a knife to sever her ring finger while she was still alive," said Greg Davis, the former Dallas County assistant district attorney who prosecuted McCarthy. "She took the ring from the finger that had been severed and continued the attack until she finally killed her."
Prosecutors showed McCarthy stole Booth's Mercedes and drove to Dallas, pawned the ring for $200 and then went to a crack house to buy some cocaine. Evidence also showed she used Booth's credit cards at a liquor store and was carrying Booth's driver's license.
Booth's DNA was found on a 10-inch butcher knife recovered from McCarthy's home. McCarthy was arrested after police found her name on a pawn shop receipt for the ring.
McCarthy blamed the crime on two drug dealers she identified only as "Kilo" and "J.C."
"We could never turn up anything that would indicate they existed," Parks said.
McCarthy was tried twice for Booth's slaying, most recently in 2002. Her first conviction in 1998 was thrown out three years later by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which ruled police violated her rights by using a statement she made to them after asking for a lawyer.
Prosecutors presented DNA and fingerprint evidence that tied McCarthy to similar slayings of two other women in Dallas in December 1988. Maggie Harding, 81, was beaten with a meat tenderizer and stabbed. Jettie Lucas, 85, was beaten with both sides of a claw hammer and stabbed. McCarthy was indicted but not tried for those slayings. She denied any involvement.
"When the jury saw the other two were equally gruesome, I think it sealed the deal for her," Davis said.
McCarthy is a former wife of Aaron Michaels, founder of the New Black Panther Party, and he testified on her behalf. They had separated before Booth's slaying.
McCarthy declined to speak with reporters as her execution date neared. She's one of 10 women on death row in Texas but the only one with an execution date.
In 1998, Karla Faye Tucker, 38, became the first woman executed in Texas since the Civil War for a robbery in Houston where two people were killed with a pickax. Two years later, a 62-year-old great-grandmother, Betty Lou Beets, received lethal injection for the slaying of her fifth husband in northeast Texas to collect insurance and pension benefits. And in 2004, Frances Newton, 40, was executed for the 1987 slayings of her husband and two children in Houston.
At least eight male Texas prisoners have executions scheduled in the coming months.