August 23, 2007 / 12:17 AM / in 12 years

Texas executes 400th person since 1982

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Texas, which leads the nation in carrying out the death penalty, on Wednesday executed the 400th person since the state resumed capital punishment in 1982.

Johnny Ray Conner in an undated composite released by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Texas, which leads the nation in carrying out the death penalty, on Wednesday executed the 400th person since the state resumed capital punishment in 1982. REUTERS/Handout

Johnny Ray Conner, 32, who was convicted in the shooting death of a convenience store owner in Houston in 1998, was the 21st man put to death by lethal injection in Texas this year. He spent nearly eight years on death row.

Texas resumed the practice after the Supreme Court lifted a moratorium on it in 1976. Since then, 1,092 people have been executed in the United States, including Conner, according to statistics from the Death Penalty Information Center.

Conner’s execution in Huntsville, located north of Houston, has drawn sharp criticism from death penalty opponents who argue that the practice is inhumane and does not serve as a deterrent to crime.

“It’s a pretty sad day for the progression — or lack thereof — for human rights in this state,” said Rick Halperin, president of the non-profit Texas Coalition To Abolish the Death Penalty. He called the state-ordered executions “barbaric and outdated.”

On Tuesday, the European Union urged the governor of Texas to halt all executions before the state carried out Conner’s death sentence.

A spokesman for Texas Gov. Rick Perry responded in a statement: “Texans long ago decided that the death penalty is a just and appropriate punishment for the most horrible crimes committed against our citizens.”

According to prosecutors, Louisiana native Conner robbed the store at gunpoint. When a customer entered the store, Conner shot him twice before the witness fled. Conner then fatally shot the 49-year-old woman who owned the store twice in the head.

Conner had no request for a last meal.

In his final statement, he asked for forgiveness and told his family he loved them. He also said his execution was wrong.

“What is happening to me now is unjust and the system is broken,” Conner said. “At the same time I bear witness there is no God but Allah and Prophet Mohammad. Unto Allah I belong unto Allah I return.”

Conner’s was the second of five executions scheduled for this month. The state has 10 more executions scheduled in 2007.

In the United States, 38 states have the death penalty, but the overall number of executions carried out by Texas is more than four times that of any other state, according to the Texas Coalition To Abolish The Death Penalty.

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