HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- Jim Willett remembers the night of Dec. 6, 1982, when he was assigned to guard a mortuary van that had arrived at the death house at the Huntsville prison.
"I remember thinking: We're really going to do this. This is really going to happen," says Willett, who was a captain for the Texas Department of Corrections.
When the van pulled away early the next morning, it carried to a nearby funeral home the body of convicted killer Charlie Brooks, who had just become the first Texas prisoner executed since a Supreme Court ruling six years earlier allowed the death penalty to resume in the United States.
What was unusual then has become rote. On Wednesday, barring a reprieve, Kimberly McCarthy will become the 500th convicted killer in Texas to receive a lethal injection.
The number far outpaces the execution total in any other state. But it also reflects the reality of capital punishment in the United States today: While some states have halted the practice in recent years because of concern about wrongful convictions, executions continue at a steady pace in many others.
The death penalty is on the books in 32 states. On average, Texas executes an inmate about every three weeks.