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All Murder Victims are Not Equal

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March 9, 2010

Yesterday, UPI reported on a new study by Scott Phillips, associate professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Denver. Professor Phillips analyzed data from 504 death penalty cases in Harris County, Texas, between 1992 and 1999, and found:

the probability of being sentenced to death is much greater if a defendant kills a white or Hispanic victim who is married with a clean criminal record and a college degree, as opposed to a black or Asian victim who is single with a prior criminal record and no college degree.

While Professor Phillips’ research was limited to Texas, this mirrors a national trend, as the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project’s Brian Stull wrote last year:

Nationally, studies consistently demonstrate that, everything else being equal, a defendant is approximately four times more likely to get the death penalty for killing a white person than for a black person. The racial configuration by far the more likely to result in a death sentence is a black defendant and a white victim. Studies of jurors from across various death penalty states demonstrate that in “black on white” murder cases with six or more white male jurors, juries issue a death sentence 78.3 percent of the time. But if three or more jurors were black males, the overproduction of death sentences disappears.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that there are likely many innocent men on death row. Brian points to the case of ACLU client Levon “Bo” Jones, was exonerated in 2008 after 14 years on North Carolina’s death row. Jones, who is African-American, was convicted and sentenced to death by an all-white jury.

h/t: StandDown

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