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Texas set to execute 500th death-row inmate

Kimberly McCarthy is shown in this undated Texas Department of Criminal Justice photograph. Kimberly McCarthy is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on January 29, 2013, the first woman to be put to death in more than two years, for the stabbing murder of her neighbor in 1997. REUTERS/Texas Department of Criminal Justice/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW HEADSHOT) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Kimberly McCarthy is shown in this undated Texas Department of Criminal Justice photograph. Kimberly McCarthy is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on January 29, 2013, the first woman to be put to death in more than two years, for the stabbing murder of her neighbor in 1997. REUTERS/Texas Department of Criminal Justice/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW HEADSHOT) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
Jean Wilkins Dember, 83, joins others Wednesday, June 26, as they protest the 500th execution in Texas outside the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Huntsville Unit. Kimberly McCarthy was set to be executed Wednesday evening.David J. Phillip / AP

Texas is poised to execute its 500th inmate since reinstating the death penalty in 1982, passing a grim milestone in the state that has executed more prisoners than any other state in the country.

Kimberly McCarthy, 52, was scheduled to be put to death by lethal injection around 6:10 p.m. (7:10 p.m. ET) Wednesday, making her one of a small number of women to have been executed.

McCarthy, a former cocaine addict, was convicted of killing her 71-year-old neighbor during a 1997 robbery. She was found guilty of using a butcher knife and a candelabra to beat and stab retired college professor Dorothy Booth. Using the same knife, she severed Booth's finger to steal her wedding ring.

McCarthy was granted a retrial by an appeals court in 2002 on the ground that police had obtained her confession illegally, but she was sentenced to death row again.

Members of Booth's family say they don’t care about Texas' macabre tally, only about justice for their loved one.

"The only significance for us is that Kimberly McCarthy, because of her crack cocaine addiction or her sociopathic personality, deprived us of Dorothy Booth," Randy Browning, Booth's godson, told The Dallas Morning News. "Whether it's the 500th or the 5,000th, it doesn't matter."

Browning had said he planned to attend the execution Wednesday evening.

A death row inmate is executed every three weeks in Texas, a rate that far exceeds that of any other state. Texas is the leader in executions in the U.S. by about 400, with Virginia a distant second. Since the Supreme Court ruled on death penalty laws in 1977, Texas has accounted for 40 percent of the more than 1,300 executions nationwide.

Despite a cultural shift away from the death penalty in many parts of the country, 32 states still allow it.

The rate of executions has declined in recent years in Texas, as well. More than three dozen people were executed in 2000, but this year, McCarthy will be the eight person subjected to capital punishment.

Kimberly McCarthy is shown in this undated Texas Department of Criminal Justice photograph. Kimberly McCarthy is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection on January 29, 2013, the first woman to be put to death in more than two years, for the stabbing murder of her neighbor in 1997. REUTERS/Texas Department of Criminal Justice/Handout (UNITED STATES - Tags: CRIME LAW HEADSHOT) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

But many Texans support the death penalty, according to a 2012 poll by the Texas Tribune and the University of Texas. Only 21 percent said they were opposed.

Gov. Rick Perry is among the majority.

"I think our process works just fine," Perry said in 2012 during his unsuccessful presidential bid. "You may not agree with them, but we believe in our form of justice."

McCarthy will be the first woman put to death in the U.S. in more than three years and the 13th since the Supreme Court's ruling. The last woman executed in the U.S. was Teresa Wilson Lewis in Virginia on Sept. 23, 2010.

Related: On death row, Jodi Arias would be the rare woman

In the past year, McCarthy’s execution has been pushed back twice, most recently in early April. Her attorney, Maurie Levin, continues to fight for McCarthy, but her latest appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals was rejected Tuesday.

Levin said black jurors were improperly blocked from McCarthy's trial, a claim the convicted woman made in her appeals.

"The shameful errors that plague Ms. McCarthy’s case — race bias, ineffective counsel and courts unwilling to exercise meaningful oversight of the system — reflect problems that are central to the administration of the death penalty as a whole," Levin said.

McCarthy's trial was decided by an all-white jury despite Levin's claim that four non-white jurors qualified. McCarthy is black, and Levin said the Dallas County jury selection process has a "troubling and long-standing history of racial discrimination in jury selection."

The only way McCarthy could avoid the death penalty is if the court said it wanted more time to review the appeal, said John Hurt, a prison agency spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Huntsville unit.

Levin told NBC News on Wednesday morning there is "no chance" of that happening because the court had already struck down her appeal.

"For this to be the emblem of Texas' 500th execution is something all Texans should be ashamed of," she said.

There are currently 283 men and women on death row in Texas.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.