Convicted killer Kenneth Lee Boyd was put to death by lethal injection early Friday, after the state governor of North Carolina denied clemency.

Boyd was convicted of the 1988 murders of his wife and father-in-law, a charge he did not deny.

"Having carefully reviewed the facts and circumstances of these crimes and convictions, I find no compelling reason to grant clemency and overturn the unanimous jury verdicts affirmed by the state and federal courts," North Carolina Governor Mike Easley said in a statement a few hours before the sentence was carried out.

Boyd's lawyer, Thomas Maher, was among a succession of visitors at the state's Central Prison. "We went in and told him the governor turned him down and he handled it well," he said.

Maher said Easley's decision left him with a feeling of "incredible sadness that we as a society think that taking someone's life is a response to violence."

Last hours

Boyd's execution was the 1000th to take place in the US since 1976 when the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment after a 10 year ban.

"I find no compelling reason to grant clemency"

Governor Mike Easley

Execution No 1001 is scheduled for Friday night at 2300 GMT, when South Carolina plans to put Shawn Humphries to death for the 1994 murder of a store clerk.

Larger-than-normal crowds of protesters gathered in Raleigh, where prison officials beefed up security outside the facility.

About 120 people gathered at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church for an interfaith prayer service on Thursday night, where they sang hymns and listened to Maher talk about Boyd's case.

Afterwards, they walked from the church to the prison, carrying candles and anti-death penalty signs.

Some 20 protesters were arrested when they walked towards the prison following part of the vigil, but other details weren't immediately available.

Worldwide executions

Executions were carried out in 25 nations worldwide in 2004, according to the human rights group Amnesty International.

In that year, 97% of all executions were performed in just four countries:China, Iran, Vietnam and the US, with the majority of them in China.

At present 38 of the 50 US states and the federal government permit capital punishment.

The state of Texas tops the table with 355 executions - more than a third of those carried out nationwide since 1976.