HUNTSVILLE, Texas — Jim Willett remembers Dec. 6, 1982, when he was assigned to guard a mortuary van at the death house at the Huntsville prison. “I remember thinking: We’re really going to do this. This is really going to happen,” says Willett, who was a captain for the Texas Department of Corrections.
When the van pulled away the next morning, it carried to a nearby funeral home the body of convicted killer Charlie Brooks, the first Texas prisoner executed since a Supreme Court ruling six years earlier allowed the death penalty to resume in the U.S.
On Wednesday, barring a reprieve, Kimberly McCarthy will become the 500th convicted killer in Texas to receive a lethal injection.
The number far outpaces the execution total in any other state. But it also reflects the reality of capital punishment in the United States today: While some states have halted the practice years because of concern about wrongful convictions, executions go at a steady pace in many others.
The death penalty is on the books in 32 states. Texas executes an inmate about every three weeks.
McCarthy, 52, was condemned for using a butcher knife and candelabra to beat and fatally stab retired college professor Dorothy Booth, a neighbor, in Booth’s home. The former nursing home therapist used the knife to sever Booth’s finger to steal her wedding ring. She is also linked to two other slayings. He execution date has been pushed back twice this year.
It’s clear that Texas, too, has been affected by the debate over capital punishment. In recent years, state lawmakers have provided more sentencing options for juries and courts have narrowed the cases in which the death penalty can be applied. In guaranteeing DNA testing for inmates and providing for life without parole, Texas could be on a slower track to execute its next 500 inmates.
A 2012 poll from the Texas Tribune and the University of Texas showed only 21 percent of Texans oppose capital punishment.