Blacks who kill whites most likely to be executed, study finds
Aug 03,2007 00:00 by Bend_Weekly_News_Sources

In the United States, blacks con­victed of kill­ing whites are not only more likely than oth­er kill­ers to get a death sen­tence—they’re al­so like­li­er to ac­tu­ally be ex­e­cut­ed, a new study sug­gests.

The chances of be­ing con­demned and of be­ing put to death are quite dif­fer­ent, as “less than 10 per­cent of those giv­en the death sen­tence ev­er get ex­e­cut­ed,” said Da­vid Ja­cobs, co-author of the study. Most of the oth­ers have their sen­tences over­turned on ap­peal, he ex­plained.

Ex­e­cu­tion cham­ber in San Quen­tin State Pris­on, Ca­lif., where death row in­mates die by le­thal in­jec­tion. (Im­age cour­te­sy Ca­lif. Dept. of Cor­rec­tions & Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion)

The new finding “sug­gests our jus­tice sys­tem places great­er val­ue on white lives, even af­ter sen­tences are hand­ed down,” added Ja­cobs, a so­ci­ol­o­gist at Ohio State Un­ivers­ity in Co­lum­bus, Ohio.

This ap­par­ently is the first study to ex­am­ine wheth­er the race of mur­der vic­tims af­fects the prob­a­bil­ity that a con­victed kill­er gets the ul­ti­mate pun­ish­ment, Ja­cobs said.

The find­ings ap­pear in the Au­gust is­sue of the re­search jour­nal Amer­i­can So­ci­o­lo­g­i­cal Re­view. The study ex­am­ined out­comes of 1,560 peo­ple sen­tenced to death in 16 states from 1973 to 2002. These 16 states were cho­sen be­cause they had the com­plete da­ta that the re­search­ers needed for the stu­dy.

A black who killed a white per­son has twice the risk of be­ing ex­e­cut­ed than a white per­son who killed a non-white, he said. “The fact that blacks who kill non-whites ac­tu­ally are less likely to be ex­e­cut­ed than blacks who kill whites shows there is a strong ra­cial bi­as here,” Ja­cobs said. “Blacks are most likely to pay the ul­ti­mate price when their vic­tims are white.”

His­pan­ics who killed whites were al­so more likely to be ex­e­cut­ed than were whites who killed non-whites, the study found. But the risk of ex­e­cu­tion was not as strong for His­pan­ics who killed whites as they were for blacks who killed whites.

The study al­so re­in­forced pre­vi­ous find­ings by Ja­cobs that the like­li­hood of a le­gal death pen­al­ty was great­er in states with high­er pro­por­tions of black res­i­dents, an ide­o­log­ic­ally more con­serv­a­tive popula­t­ion, and in states where there was great­er sup­port for Re­pub­li­can can­di­dates.

In the new re­search, Ja­cobs found that ex­e­cu­tion prob­a­bil­i­ties in­crease in states along with the popula­t­ion of Af­ri­can Amer­i­cans, up to a point. But when the popula­t­ion of blacks reaches about 16 per­cent of the popula­t­ion, ex­e­cu­tions start to de­crease. Probably at that point, Af­ri­can-Amer­i­cans have enough votes and po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence with­in a state to re­duce the num­ber of ex­e­cu­tions, Ja­cobs said.

Courtesy Ohio State University and World Science staff