HOUSTON (AP) — Relatives of a slain Texas woman who were en route to the convicted killer's execution this week were stunned to get a call that a state judge had halted the punishment.
"We were shocked and dismayed and sad and angry and a whole plethora of emotions we were feeling about this," Randall Browning, the victim's godson, said Thursday. "This is outrageous. Nobody is considering the victims in this."
Dorothy Booth, 71, was beaten, stabbed and robbed at her home in Lancaster, south of Dallas. A neighbor, Kimberly McCarthy, was convicted in the 1997 slaying and sentenced to die.
On Tuesday, the 51-year-old McCarthy received a reprieve. It came about five hours before she was scheduled to become the first woman executed in the U.S. since 2010 and only the 13th since the U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 allowed capital punishment to continue.
"We have waited for 15 years patiently and quietly for justice that was promised us after she was initially found guilty and given the death penalty," Browning said. "And the state of Texas so far has failed to realize justice for our family."
A judge reset McCarthy's punishment in Huntsville for April 3 to give her lawyers more time to pursue arguments that the jury in her case improperly was selected on the basis of race. McCarthy is black. All but one of the jurors at her 2002 trial were white.
"If I was African-American I would be absolutely insulted at the suggestion that somehow African-Americans would not find her guilty," said Browning, who is white, referring to the "gruesome" evidence in the case.
The slaying of Booth, a retired college psychology professor, is one of three linked to McCarthy, a former nursing home therapist who became addicted to cocaine.
Maurie Levin, a University of Texas law professor whose appeal resulted in McCarthy's 60-day reprieve, said Thursday she was "truly sorry for the loss and hardship Dr. Booth's family has had to endure."
"Our belief is that issues as important as this one — discrimination in the jury selection process — warrant consideration by the courts, which has never happened in this case," she said. "As the Supreme Court has recognized, when prospective jurors are rejected on the basis of race, it harms the entire community.
"Such practices undermine the confidence of the public — including African Americans — in the criminal justice system."
Browning, 57, was among five friends and relatives, including Booth's daughter and granddaughter, who were set to be in the Texas death chamber on Tuesday to watch McCarthy's lethal injection. Since 1996, Texas law has allowed representatives of murder victims to be present for executions.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice figures show the average convicted killer spends 10 years on death row before the punishment is carried out.
Repeated delays are not unusual. Prisoner Larry Swearingen, set to die within weeks for a 1998 slaying, won a fourth reprieve Wednesday from a judge.
"Nobody is considering the victims in this," Browning said. "All I'm hearing about is Kimberly's rights. ... What about the victim's family? This opens up so many raw emotions for us.
"After 15 years we still don't have any kind of closure. And I can say this kind of situation has made things worse. It has created even more uncertainty for us. We don't know what's going to happen."
Browning said his mother, who spoke daily with Booth, was responsible for leading police to McCarthy after Booth's body was found. Booth had been stabbed with a butcher knife, beaten with a candelabra and her finger was severed to remove her wedding ring.
"My 87-year-old mother is a basket case," Browning said of the delayed execution. "She is crying. If you try to talk to her about it, she's so upset."
His mother told investigators Booth had told her McCarthy repeatedly called asking to borrow her car or for money. Prosecutors said the day of the slaying, McCarthy called to borrow a cup of sugar and then attacked Booth when she went to get it.
"She was a very, very generous and loving person," Browning said of Booth. "I think that's what ultimately got her killed. It wasn't like Dorothy to refuse."