RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) - Convicted killer Kenneth Lee Boyd became the 1,000th prisoner executed in the United States since the reinstatement of capital punishment when he was put to death by lethal injection early on Friday.
Boyd, who was 57, died at 2:15 a.m. (0715 GMT) in the death chamber of Central Prison in North Carolina's state capital, Raleigh, spokeswoman Pamela Walker of the Department of Corrections said. Boyd was strapped to a gurney and injected with a fatal mix of three drugs.
Boyd, a Vietnam war veteran with a history of alcohol abuse, was sentenced to death for the murder in 1988 of his wife and father-in-law in front of two of his children.
His execution drew world attention because of the milestone it represented since the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the death penalty to be brought back in 1976 after a nine-year unofficial moratorium.
In the hours leading up to Boyd's death, about 100 death-penalty opponents gathered on a sidewalk outside the prison where they held candles and read the names of the other 999 convicts who have been put to death.
Between 16 and 18 of the protesters were detained shortly before midnight and charged with trespassing after stepping onto prison property, police said. Witnesses said many in the group had been on their knees in prayer on a prison driveway.
"This was a peaceful demonstration. They just violated the rules," said State Capitol Police Chief Scott Hunter.
Boyd's last chance of life ran out less than four hours before his appointment with death when Gov. Mike Easley said he saw no compelling reason to grant clemency.
In his final few hours, he ate a last meal of steak, baked potato and salad and met his family for the last time.
"His concern is that who he is will get lost in a bizarre coincidence that he's number 1,000," Boyd's lawyer Thomas Maher told Reuters late on Thursday.
"He said it best: 'I'm a person, not a statistic'."
GARY GILMORE WAS FIRST
The first convict to be executed after the death penalty returned to the United States, Gary Gilmore, died in front a firing squad in Utah on Jan. 17, 1977, after ordering his lawyers to drop all appeals.
A novel about his case, "The Executioner's Song", won writer Norman Mailer a Pulitzer Prize. Gilmore donated his eyes for transplant, inspiring a British punk rock song.
Thirty-eight of the 50 U.S. states and the federal government permit capital punishment and only China, Iran and Vietnam held more executions in 2004 than the United States, according to rights group Amnesty International.
But while the death penalty retains support with a clear majority of Americans, the number of executions has fallen sharply in recent years, and was down to 59 last year.
Duke University law professor Jim Coleman, who has headed American Bar Association efforts to impose a moratorium, said Boyd would not have been sentenced to death if he were tried today because defense lawyers are better and jurors are more reluctant to impose the ultimate punishment.
"If you were starting from scratch, my guess is nobody would think that the death penalty is a great idea," he said.
Singapore, which has the world's highest execution rate relative to population, also carried out a death penalty on Friday. The hanging of Australian drugs trafficker Nguyen Tuong Van went ahead despite repeated Australian government pleas for clemency.
South Carolina was scheduled to execute another American, Shawn Paul Humphries, by lethal injection at 6 p.m. (2300 GMT) on Friday for the killing of a convenience store owner in a robbery.
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