Kenneth Lee Boyd didn’t want to be a statistic, and his lawyer tried to give him as dignified a death as possible–when death comes at the end of a needle in the middle of the night as journalists, cops and prosecutors get an up-close view as your client draws his last breath in Central Prison’s death chamber.

Boyd, 57, drew a number he didn’t want–1,000. On the morning of Dec. 2, Boyd was the 1,000th person to be executed in the United States since the process was resumed in 1977. His lawyer, Tom Maher, witnessed the execution at Boyd’s request and spoke at a prayer service at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church hours before the execution.

“There is no denying that 1,000 executions is a mind-numbing number of people killed–I believe it was Stalin who said that the death of a single person was a tragedy but that the death of a million people is a statistic. We must never lose sight of the individual, personal tragedies in this number.”

Maher brought along a poster-size color photograph of Boyd, a Vietnam veteran, dressed in his military uniform. The poster sat on the altar, which included candles lit in memory of those executed and their victims.

Maher said he had the poster made because Boyd’s humanity was being lost in the media frenzy over the 1,000 milestone. “This was a living, breathing human being we’re talking about,” Maher said.

Dominican nun Sister Kitty Bethea and Rabbi Lucy Dinner officiated at the Pullen prayer service.

“As long as there are people on death row, we will struggle and continue to have hope that things can change,” Bethea said.

The death penalty is unnecessary since a sentence of life in prison without parole already exists in North Carolina, Maher said. “Punishment is appropriate,” Maher said. “Vengeance is not.”

Maher also took issue with the effort to pass a moratorium while the General Assembly studies the many flaws opponents say are inherent in the death penalty process. The death penalty can no more be fixed than you can fix slavery, he said.

When Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner granted clemency to Robin Lovitt, who had been scheduled to be the 1,000th execution victim, Boyd’s plight became the focus of international attention. Journalists from several foreign countries converged on Central Prison, as did a larger-than-usual turnout of anti-death penalty activists.

At around 11:30 p.m., while the names of the previous 999 execution victims were being read aloud, a group of 17 activists, many of them wearing sackcloth vests and carrying ashes, walked together into the driveway entrance to the prison, some telling police to help them go into the prison to stop the execution.

As the police pushed them backward, dragging some of the protesters, many in the group read in unison from Lamentations: “When all the prisoners of the land are crushed under foot, when human rights are perverted in the presence of the Most High, when one’s case is subverted–does the Lord not see it?”

After refusing to leave the area, police arrested all 17, including one minor, David Zoppo, 17, a Wakefield High School student, and former California death row prisoner Shujaa Graham. The action was organized by the Raleigh Catholic Worker. The 17, who all were released early the next morning, were charged with second-degree trespass and “resisting, obstructing, and delaying a public officer.” The 11 local defendants were released without bond. Six from out of state were released on $1,000 cash bonds. The defendants were given Jan. 24 court dates.

Boyd was sentenced to death for the shooting deaths of his estranged wife, Julie Boyd, and her father, Dillard Curry, on March 4, 1988, in Rockingham County.

Boyd had a desire to live. His execution became big news. A picture of Boyd’s son, Kenneth “Tink” Smith, and Smith’s daughter (Boyd’s granddaughter), Courtney, 9, was published along with an execution story in the Dec. 3 edition of The New York Times. Stephen Dear, executive director of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty, was quoted in newspapers in the Far East and South America calling capital punishment “a filthy, rotten system.”

With 59 executions in 2004, the United States is near the top of the list of nations with the most executions. The United States trails only China, Iran and Vietnam, and is followed by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Kuwait.

In a Nov. 30 interview with the Associated Press, Boyd said he didn’t want to be remembered as the 1,000th execution victim. “I’d hate to be remembered as that,” he said. “I don’t like the idea of being picked as a number.”

Maher said Boyd’s execution “has not made this a better or a safer world. What this execution has done is just continue the cycle of pain for those who loved him. This 1,000th execution is a milestone, it’s a milestone we should all be ashamed of, and hopefully one day we will learn that meeting violence with violence is not the answer.”

In his final words, Boyd said: “God bless everybody in here.”

His funeral was in Eden. “It was very nice,” Tink Smith said.

Boyd’s execution was the 38th in the state since executions resumed in 1984 and the fifth this year, leaving North Carolina tied for second-most executions in 2005 behind Texas. Boyd’s execution was the 23rd under Gov. Mike Easley, who denied clemency for the third time in less than a month.

The state plans to pick up where it left off in the New Year. On the eve of Boyd’s execution, the state scheduled its next execution. Perrie Dyon Simpson, 43, is set to die Jan. 20.