The first woman scheduled to be executed in the U.S. since 2010 won a reprieve Tuesday, mere hours before she was scheduled to be taken to the Texas death chamber.
State District Judge Larry Mitchell, in Dallas, rescheduled Kimberly McCarthy's punishment for April 3 so lawyers for the former nursing home therapist could have more time to pursue an appeal focused on whether her predominantly white jury was improperly selected on the basis of race. McCarthy is black.
Dallas County prosecutors, who initially contested the motion to reschedule, chose to not appeal the ruling.
District Attorney Craig Watkins said the 60-day delay was "appropriate." If no irregularities are discovered, he said he'd move forward with the execution.
"We want to make sure everything is done correctly," he said.
The 51-year-old McCarthy was convicted and sent to death row for the 1997 stabbing, beating and robbery of a 71-year-old neighbor. She learned of the reprieve less than five hours before she was scheduled for lethal injection, already in a small holding cell a few feet from the death chamber at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit.
"I'm happy right now over that," she told prison agency spokesman John Hurt. "There's still work to be done on my case."
Hurt said McCarthy was in good spirits and "didn't seem tense or nervous" even before she learned she would live.
A Dallas County jury convicted her of killing neighbor Dorothy Booth at the retired college psychology professor's home in Lancaster, about 15 miles south of Dallas.
"We are very pleased that we will now have an opportunity to present evidence of discrimination in the selection of the jury that sentenced Kimberly McCarthy to death," said Maurie Levin, a University of Texas law professor and McCarthy's lawyer.
"Of the twelve jurors seated at trial, all were white, except one, and eligible non-white jurors were excluded from serving by the state. ... These facts must be understood in the context of the troubling and long-standing history of racial discrimination in jury selection in Dallas County, including at the time of Ms. McCarthy's trial," Levin said.
Investigators said Booth had agreed to give McCarthy a cup of sugar before she was attacked with a butcher knife and candelabra. Booth's finger also was severed so McCarthy could take her wedding ring. It was among three slayings linked to McCarthy, who'd been addicted to crack cocaine.
McCarthy would have been the 13th woman executed in the U.S. and the fourth in Texas, the nation's busiest death penalty state, since the Supreme Court allowed capital punishment to resume in 1976. In that same time period, more than 1,300 male inmates have been executed nationwide.
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 Oct. 1, and only 63 — 2 percent — were women.