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Execution No. 700

Texas' lethal injection Wednesday of a convicted killer was the 700th execution in the United States since the Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.

Dennis Dowthitt, 55, was convicted of killing and sexually assaulting 16-year-old Grace Purnhagen in 1990. He was the fifth inmate executed in 2001 in the Lone Star state, where a record 40 inmates were put to death last year. Nine more are scheduled through July 11.

The bodies of Grace Purnhagen and her nine-year-old sister Tiffany were found along a pipeline in Texas' Montgomery County in the summer of 1990. Grace's throat had been slashed and she had been sexually assaulted with a glass bottle. Tiffany had been strangled to death.

Police initially suspected Dennis Dowthitt's 16-year-old son Delton, Grace's boyfriend, of both murders.

Delton Dowthitt initially confessed to the crimes, but then told police his father killed and assaulted Grace and ordered Delton to kill Tiffany.

The son is serving a 45-year sentence for the crime.

America's use of the death penalty has been the subject of criticism from some world organizations and activists, some of whom saw the 700th execution as a tragic milestone.

"The USA is engaged in a cruel, brutalizing, unreliable, unnecessary and hugely expensive activity for no measurable gain," Amnesty International said earlier this year, anticipating the 700th execution. "The fact that it is violating human rights standards in the process only adds to the deepening shadow being cast on its international reputation by its relentless resort to this outdated punishment."

Death penalty supporters, however, said the number of executed inmates should not be the public's focus.

"I would like for everyone to remember Gracie and Tiffany Purnhagen, who were the 16 and nine-year-old victims," said Dianne Clements, who is president of Justice For All, a volunteer victim advocacy organization and criminal justice reform group, and attended the execution.

"Let's reflect on the numbers of innocents who have been murdered by those who have been executed and those who are awaiting execution across the states," she said. "I think we need to focus on the reasons for the executions and that is to remember the victims."

State Totals
Executions since 1976:

Texas 244
Virginia 82
Florida 51
Missouri 47
Oklahoma 39
Louisiana 26
South Carolina 25
Georgia 23
Arkansas 23
Alabama 23
Arizona 22
North Carolina 16
Illinois 12
Delaware 11
Nevada 8
California 8
Indiana 7
Utah 6
Mississippi 4
Maryland 3
Nebraska 3
Pennsylvania 3
Washington 3
Kentucky 2
Montana 2
Oregon 2
Colorado 1
Idaho 1
Ohio 1
Tennessee 1
Wyoming 1

(AP, DPIC,, Amnesty Int'l)

Earlier, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the execution of a borderline mentally retarded man from Missouri hours before he was scheduled to die.

The court reinstated Antonio Richardson's execution order Tuesday, then issued a second ruling late Tuesday to allow it time to review his case.

Richardson, 26, had been scheduled to be put to death by injection early Wednesday for his role in the 1991 rapes and slayings of the Kerry sisters — Robin, 19, and Julie, 20. The young women were pushed off an abandoned Mississippi River bridge in north St. Louis. Richardson was not accused of pushing the sisters.

In Richardson's case, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had halted the execution until the Supreme Court heard the case of John Paul Penry, a convicted killer from Texas who also is borderline mentally retarded.

The Supreme Court said it will use the Texas case to clarify how much latitude jurors in death penalty cases will have in considering a defendant's mental capacity. A hearing in the Penry case was scheduled for March 22, but it wasn't clear when the court would make a decision.

Learn about the history of capital punishment in the United States.

The clemency request for Richardson cited three major concerns: He was a 16 years old at the time of the killings in 1991, he has an IQ of around 70, and he has suffered from brain damage since birth.

The European Union, the Children and Family Justice Center, the Association for Retarded Citizens, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International urged the governor to halt the execution.

In Georgia, the state Supreme Court halted the execution of a man convicted of killing a police officer four hours before he was scheduled to die. The court said it wanted to review whether the electric chair constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

The Georgia Supreme Court's 4-3 ruling delayed indefinitely the execution of Ronald Keith Spivey, who was convicted of killing a police officer in 1976. The court said it was delaying his execution until it addressewhether electrocution violates the U.S. Constitution's ban on "cruel and unusual" punishment.

"Electrocution offends the evolving standards of decency that characterize a mature, civilized society," Justice Leah J. Sears wrote in the high court's majority opinion Tuesday.

State Attorney General Thurbert Baker and a county prosecutor asked the court to reconsider its decision.

Georgia is one of only four states that still use the electric chair, though both it and Florida have changed their primary means of execution to lethal injection.

Georgia's General Assembly last year approved the use of lethal injection for those convicted of capital murder after May 1, 2000, but the electric chair remains the punishment for those condemned to death before then.

Only Nebraska and Alabama still use the electric chair as their sole means of execution; both states' legislatures are considering changes to lethal injection.

Georgia has executed 23 people in the past 25 years, Missouri 47 people and Texas, with by far the busiest death row, has executed 243 inmates since 1976.

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