The State of Texas tonight is set to execute the 500th capital killer to be put to death since capital punishment was reinstated in Texas in 1982, 1200 WOAI news reports.
Kimberly McCarthy, who was once the wife of a member of the infamous racist 'Black Panther' group, beat and stabbed a neighbor to death in a robbery near her home south of Dallas in 1997.
McCarthy's attorneys lost a last minute appeal on Tuesday, when the state's highest criminal court refused to approve her claim that she deserves a new trial on the grounds that African American jurors were improperly excluded from her jury. The court said the issue was raised too late, and Maurie Levin, McCarthy's attorney and a prominent Austin death penalty opponent, says the case can't be appealed and McCarthy's execution tonight cannot be stopped.
Richard Dietert, who heads the Death Penalty Information Center, says the real story in the state's 500th execution is the decline of the death penalty in Texas. Texas, which has executed far more people than any other state in the past 31 years, only sentenced 8 people to death in 2012, down from 49 death sentences annually in the 1990s.
"The biggest change was the life without parole passage back in 2005," Dietert said.
Death penalty opponents say the flurry of exonerations of people who had served long prison sentences, and the exoneration of two people from Death Row, has also prompted Texas juries to think twice about sentencing people to death.
"For the past five years, Texas has averaged about nine death sentences a year," Dietert said. "If you go back to 1999, for example, they had 48 death sentences."
Texas is now third in the nation in sentencing people to death, behind Florida and California, which actually carry out far fewer executions than Texas.
Dietert says there is also no evidence to back up the contention that the existence of the death penalty is a deterrent to crime, pointing out that Texas' violent crime rate remains among the highest in the nation, despite the state's liberal use of capital punishment.
McCarthy will also be the first woman put to death in the U.S. since 2010.