RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) - A double murderer on Friday became the 1,000th prisoner executed in the United States since the reinstatement of capital punishment, triggering renewed national and global debate about the death penalty.
The execution of Kenneth Lee Boyd in North Carolina was followed by that in neighboring South Carolina, also through lethal injection, of Shawn Paul Humphries, who killed a convenience store owner during a robbery.
Through the symbolism of its number, Boyd's execution cast a fresh spotlight on U.S. capital punishment, which the Supreme Court brought back in 1976 after a nine-year unofficial moratorium.
It also came as executions in Singapore and Saudi Arabia sparked international concerns.
"God bless everybody in here," Boyd said in his last words from the death chamber to witnesses at Central Prison in North Carolina's state capital, Raleigh.
Boyd, who was 57, was a Vietnam War veteran with a history of alcohol abuse. He was executed for killing his wife and father-in-law in 1988, in front of two of his children.
"This 1,000th execution is a milestone, a milestone we should all be ashamed of," his lawyer Thomas Maher said.
Boyd was wheeled into the death chamber, strapped to a gurney and injected with a fatal mix of three drugs.
He seemed "sort of resigned," said witness Elyse Ashburn.
About 100 death-penalty opponents gathered on a sidewalk outside the prison. They held candles and read the names of the other convicts who have been put to death.
In Columbia, South Carolina, where WYFF4 television said Humphries was put to death shortly after 6 p.m. EST (2300 GMT), a handful of demonstrators protested outside the penitentiary.
Critics of the death sentence imposed on Humphries say his crime was not premeditated. He killed Mendel Alton "Dickie" Smith during a bungled robbery in 1993 with a single shot after the shopkeeper apparently reached for his gun.
With polls showing that a declining majority of the American public backs the death penalty, the White House reiterated U.S. President George W. Bush's support.
"The president strongly supports the death penalty because he believes ultimately it helps save innocent lives," White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.
Bush is a former governor of Texas, which has accounted for 355 of the 1,001 executions so far -- more than three times as many as any other state.
World reaction to Boyd's death was swift.
The European Union said it considered the death penalty "cruel and inhuman."
"It does not act as a deterrent and any miscarriage of justice -- which is inevitable in any legal system -- is irreversible," the 25-nation bloc said in a statement issued by the EU president, Britain.
Bush believed it was important that the death penalty be administered "fairly and swiftly and surely" with expanded DNA testing to make sure convictions were secure, McClellan said.
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.
Improved DNA testing that has led to several criminal convictions being overturned has fueled doubts about the fairness of capital punishment.
Singapore, which has the world's highest execution rate relative to population, also carried out an execution on Friday with the hanging of Australian drugs trafficker Nguyen Tuong Van despite Australian government pleas for clemency.
In Saudi Arabia, murderer Ahmad al-Shaater became at least the 78th person put to death this year in the conservative kingdom.
(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria in Washington and Harriet McLeod in Charleston, S.C.)
Did you find this article insightful?