By Corrie MacLaggan
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The execution of Kimberly McCarthy was postponed by a Texas judge on Tuesday, the day she was to die, to give her lawyers time to argue that racial discrimination played a role in choosing the jury that convicted her.
It was rescheduled for April 3 and, if carried out, McCarthy will be the first woman to be put to death in the United States in nearly three years.
Dallas County District Court Judge Larry Mitchell delayed the execution, which was scheduled to take place after 6 p.m. local time.
"Of the twelve jurors seated at trial, all were white, except one, and eligible non-white jurors were excluded from serving by the State," said Maurie Levin, a University of Texas adjunct law professor who assisted in representing McCarthy.
McCarthy is African-American.
The predominantly white jury contrasted with an African-American population in Dallas County of 22.5 percent, lawyers said in their request for the delay of execution.
Dallas County, Texas, has previously been accused of racial discrimination in jury selection. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a black death row inmate convicted in the county was entitled to a new trial because of strong evidence of racial bias in jury selection during his 1986 trial.
"Race played an undeniable role in the selection of the jury that convicted and sentenced Ms. McCarthy," her lawyers said in their request.
Women are rarely executed in the United States. Only 12 female inmates have been put to death since capital punishment was reinstated by the Supreme Court in 1976, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
The last woman executed was Teresa Lewis in Virginia on September 23, 2010, the center said.
McCarthy, 51, was convicted of stabbing her 71-year-old neighbor Dorothy Booth on July 21, 1997.
According to the Texas attorney general's summary of the case she also cut off Booth's left ring finger to take her diamond ring, which she later pawned.
McCarthy also was believed to be responsible for the murders of two other elderly women, according to the case summary.
McCarthy was found guilty in 1998 by a Dallas County jury of murdering Booth and she was sentenced to death. Her conviction was overturned by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2001 because no attorney was present when she was questioned after the crime, even though she had requested a lawyer, court documents showed. She was tried a second time in 2002, found guilty by a Dallas County jury, and again sentenced to death.
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 2004 agreed with the second conviction.
McCarthy would have been the second person executed in the United States so far this year. Forty-three inmates were put to death in 2012.
(Reporting by Corrie MacLaggan; Writing by Greg McCune)