Kimberly McCarthy's lawyers scramble to save her life, claiming the jury who convicted her of murder was racially biased

Defence lawyers in Dallas County, Texas are scrambling to save the life of a death row prisoner who is due on Tuesday night to become the first woman executed in the US in more than two years.

Attorneys for Kimberly McCarthy, found guilty in 1998 of murdering a 71-year-old white neighbour, claim her case demonstrates blatant racial discrimination by the state because African American jurors were actively filtered out in the jury selection process.

Barring a last minute stay of execution by the Texas governor Rick Perry or the Dallas County courts, she will be put to death by lethal injection at 6pm local time.

In a letter to Perry, McCarthy's lawyers allege that at her trial, the selection process produced a final jury of 13 people, all but one of whom were white. By contrast, the population of Dallas County is almost a quarter black.

The lawyers argue that such a striking imbalance was wholly consistent with a systemic discrimination in Texas, and in Dallas County in particular, towards white juries in capital cases. The county is 23% black and 69% white, yet of the 81 people from the area who are on death row or who have already been executed, 42% are black, 21% are Latino and 49% are white.

The history of Texas prosecutors "shuffling" black people to the back of the queue during jury selection is long and ugly, bordering at times on farcical. As recently as 2005, a prospective black juror was asked to show his teeth in court after the prosecutor argued that missing front teeth indicated a "socioeconomic stereotype".

In 1986, a manual was issued to prosecutors that stated it was "not advisable to select potential jurors with multiple gold chains around their necks". Track back to 1963, and the training manual on jury selection from that day advised prosecutors "not to take Jews, Negroes, Dagos, Mexicans, or a member of any minority race on a jury, no matter how rich or how well educated."

Maurie Levin of the University of Texas capital punishment clinic, who is representing McCarthy, told the Guardian that "there is clear evidence that the prosecution excluded jurors on the basis of race. Given that, the execution of Miss McCarthy has to be stayed."

It is a breach of the US constitution to strike off even one potential juror on racial grounds.

Perry has the power to impose a 30-day delay in the execution, though going on past form an intervention from him must be considered unlikely. There have been 253 executions in Texas under Perry's watch , a record for any US governor in recent times.

It may come too late to save McCarthy, but pressure is mounting within Texas for a review of the role racial discrimination has played in jury selection. "The allegation that there might have been racial bias in Dallas county over a number of years might trigger a review of the whole system," said Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center.

The chief prosecutor of the county, Craig Watkins, who is the first African American to be elected to the role of district attorney in Texas, has called for new law to be introduced that would allow death row inmates to appeal their sentences on grounds of general racial discrimination as underlined by statistics.

"Throughout history, race has unfortunately played a part, an ugly part, in our criminal justice system," Watkins told the Dallas Morning News earlier this month.

A similar law has already been passed by North Carolina. Last month a judge commuted the death sentences of three convicted killers in the state from death to life without parole on the basis of the Racial Justice Act.

© Guardian News and Media 2013

[Image via AFP]