Death by Numbers: The 500th Execution by the State of Texas by Gemma Puglisi


On June 26th, the state of Texas executed its 500th inmate. Kimberly McCarthy, 52, was found guilty of murdering her 71-year-old neighbor, a retired college psychology professor back in l997. McCarthy, a crack cocaine addict, robbed, beat, and stabbed Dorothy Booth, after asking for a cup of sugar. Throughout McCarthy’s trial, her former ex-husband, Black Panther Party founder Aaron Michaels, testified on her behalf. The two were separated before Booth’s murder.

All a tragic story. After reading about the case and the execution, I learned more. This has all become important to me after knowing former death row inmate Troy Anthony Davis. I became friends with Davis simply by reading about his case back in 2007. In 2011, “Troy” was executed by the state of Georgia for the murder of Police Officer Mark MacPhail. Officer MacPhail was white, and the father of two young children. Troy always maintained his innocence. There was never any evidence linking him to the crime other than witnesses who said he did it. Years later, seven of the nine recanted stating that they were coerced by the police. Despite so many unanswered questions — and support from Amnesty International, the NAACP, Desmond Tutu, former President Jimmy Carter, and literally millions of supporters, Troy was executed on Sept. 21, 2011.

Dorothy Booth’s death was horrible. She and her family deserved justice. No question. As I researched McCarthy’s case and read more about it, I learned that her attorney Maurie Levin had asked the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals to halt the execution, because black jurors were excluded from her trial by Dallas County prosecutors. The jurors in her case were all white except for one.

After Troy’s execution, I find myself talking to attorneys who have worked tirelessly to seek justice for death row inmates — and may not have had fair trials. In 2010, a call led to my meeting attorney James Rocap — who represented Teresa Lewis — the first women executed in the state of Virginia in 50 years. (Lewis’ case was controversial because of her mental capacity. Supporters said she was borderline mentally retarded. Lewis was found guilty of having her husband and stepson murdered. It was believed she was not capable of orchestrating the murders because of her mental capacity.) Despite all this, she was executed Sept. 23, 2010 — almost exactly a year before Troy.

In a statement issued following the execution of Kimberly McCarthy, attorney Levin said: “500 is 500 too many. I look forward to the day when we recognize that this pointless and barbaric practice, imposed almost exclusively on those who are poor and disproportionately on people of color, has no place in a civilized society.”

That is the tragedy of Texas’s 500th execution. That state leads the country in most executions. We are a civilized society, and the death penalty is barbaric and senseless and in so many cases. There is no question that those who kill should be accountable for their horrible actions. And prison is that punishment. There are too many cases today where there is doubt, many unanswered questions, and injustice.

Troy’s dream was that executions end. I couldn’t help but think of him when I read about this recent news.

I pulled out a letter he mailed me months before his execution. He said, “Deter prejudice, hatred and racism by ending the death penalty now. ‘An eye for an eye’ leaves the entire world blind. How can the U.S. be a beacon of freedom to the rest of the world when Justice includes the death penalty… we lose all credibility with the death penalty.”

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