By Lisa Maria Garza
DALLAS (Reuters) - Texas on Wednesday executed by lethal injection a woman convicted of stabbing her elderly neighbor to death in 1997, the first U.S. execution of a woman in nearly three years, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said.
Kimberly McCarthy, 52, was pronounced dead at 6:37 p.m. CDT (2337 GMT) at a Texas state prison in Huntsville, the department said. She was convicted of killing Dorothy Booth, 71, in 1997, cutting off her ring finger and stealing a diamond ring that she then pawned.
McCarthy's execution was the 500th in the state since capital punishment was restored in 1976. She was also the 18th person executed in the United States so far this year and the eighth in Texas.
During her last statement, McCarthy thanked those who supported her including a reverend and her attorney, according to department spokesman Jason Clark.
"This is not a loss, this is a win. You know where I am going. I am going home to be with Jesus, keep the faith, I love ya'll. Thank you chaplain," McCarthy said.
Her last words as the lethal drugs began to take effect, were, "God is good," the department said in a statement.
Of the 1,338 executions now carried out in the United States since the death penalty's reinstatement, only 13 have been women. Before McCarthy, the last was Teresa Lewis in Virginia in September 2010.
Texas has been by far the most active U.S. state in executing prisoners, leaving Virginia a distant second with 110 executions, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Since January, a county judge postponed McCarthy's execution twice to address appeals by lawyer Maurie Levin, who raised questions about possible racial discrimination in the selection of the jury that convicted her. McCarthy is African-American.
The issues in McCarthy's case "reflect problems that are central to the administration of the death penalty as a whole," Levin said before McCarthy's execution. "For this to be the emblem of Texas' 500th execution is something all Texans should be ashamed of."
Eleven of the 12 Dallas County jurors who convicted McCarthy were white and eligible non-white jurors were excluded from serving, Levin's appeal said. Dallas County has previously been accused of racial discrimination in jury selection.
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a black death-row inmate convicted in the county was entitled to a new trial because of strong evidence of racial bias in jury selection during his 1986 trial.
McCarthy was first convicted in 1998 for Booth's murder, according to a case summary from the Texas attorney general.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals overturned that conviction in 2001 because no lawyer was present when she was questioned, even though she had asked for one, according to court documents. She was convicted and again sentenced to death after a second jury trial in 2002.
(Reporting by Lisa Maria Garza; Editing by David Bailey, Greg McCune and Eric Beech)