Margie Velma Barfield, convicted in 1978 of murdering her fiance with poison, today became the first women executed in the United States in 22 years when she was killed by injection at Central Prison here.

Barfield, 52, who chose death by injection rather than the gas chamber, was the first woman executed in North Carolina in 40 years.

By midday Thursday, Barfield had told her attorneys to give up the fight for her life.

On her last day, Barfield was "clearheaded" about not making a final appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court and was taking no special medication, her attorney, James D. Little, said.

She decided to wear her pink cotton pajamas to the death chamber rather than a brown prison-issue dress, he added, and asked to donate her organs for transplant, at least those considered useful after her death.

Three days past her birthday, the cotton-mill worker's daughter became the first woman executed in the United States since Aug. 8, 1962, when Elizabeth Ann (Ma) Duncan, 58, died in California's gas chamber a few hours ahead of two ex-convicts she hired to murder her daughter-in-law.

Barfield, known as "Death Row Granny," confessed in court to poisoning four persons, including her mother. She was convicted in 1978 of using ant and roach poison to kill her fiance, a tobacco farmer.

She spent Thursday afternoon with family and friends, and her son and daughter stayed until visiting hours ended at 5 p.m. Nearby, at the state capitol, about 100 demonstrators held a candlelight march to protest the execution.

Barfield's family decided not to be among the 16 witnesses to her death. Ann Lotz, daughter of evangelist Billy Graham, who had befriended Barfield during her years on death row, volunteered to be present. Barfield has described herself as a born-again Christian.

Officials said Barfield had pea soup for lunch Thursday and refused a final meal, offered all prisoners, of chicken livers, macaroni and cheese, greens and cake.

Correction Department spokesman Tom Hegele said Barfield requested some cheese snacks and a soft drink "in place of the supper, and we gave it to her. Her state of mind is very good. There's no emotion or anything else from her."

Twenty-eight men have been executed since the Supreme Court allowed restoration of the death penalty in 1976, and execution watches have become somewhat commonplace, with two taking place this week. But the Barfield story provided a fresh twist and brought the news media out in force. She was one of 18 women among about 1,200 persons on death row nationwide.

A much larger news media contingent gathered at the prison's main gate than appeared for the execution by injection of James W. Hutchins, 54, last March 16, officials said.

"Hutchins was a grandparent, too," a prison official told a reporter recently. "But in his case, nobody ever mentioned it."

Barfield's lawyers had mounted a final series of appeals this week but were rebuked in state Superior Court, state Supreme Court, U.S. District Court and finally Thursday by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond.

Before the flurry, her case had been through the federal court system three times, with reviews by eight courts and 21 judges.

On Sept. 27, Gov. James B. Hunt denied her plea for clemency, citing considerations of justice, crime deterrence and the fact that the poisoning method of which she was convicted is "slow and agonizing."

Barfield supporters argued that Hunt made the decision in the heat of his close Senate race against Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). The governor has denied the charge.

This week, Little said he had found new grounds for appeal, contending that Barfield had been undergoing withdrawal from such drugs as Valium during her 1978 trial and could not assist in her defense. The state countered with, among other things, a statement from the presiding judge that she had appeared "unemotional, stolid and undemonstrative" and that her testimony was "lucid."

Over a period of years, Barfield said, she poisoned her mother, her fiance and two elderly people who hired her as a nurse.

Barfield and her supporters argued that her life should be spared on grounds that she had overcome her decade-long dependency on drugs and become a decent person who could serve a useful social purpose counseling other inmates.

But Joe Freeman Britt, the Robeson County district attorney who prosecuted her, described her consistently as a coldblooded killer who enjoyed the murders and subsequent funerals.

Barfield was moved from the women's prison across town to a holding cell at the stark, modern Central Prison Sunday night.

Her windowless "death-watch" cell, bathed by a perpetual fluorescent glow, was 18 steps from the death chamber and had a metal bunk, sink and toilet. Officials said Barfield spent time there reading letters from around the world and listening to religious tapes.

As many as 175 letters regarding her case have arrived daily at the governor's office, and about two-thirds of them favored clemency, an aide said.

State law allowed Barfield the option of deciding how she wanted to die, and one reason she chose injection, Little said, was "the dignity factor." Lying on a gurney, she could not see the array of witnesses on the other side of the gas chamber's glass viewing panel, he said.

"I don't like the idea of her last sight being people, at least some of whom want the state to kill her," Little had said. "On the gurney, she can just turn her head."