Academic journal article Albany Law Review

These Lives Matter, Those Ones Don't: Comparing Execution Rates by the Race and Gender of the Victim in the U.S. and in the Top Death Penalty States

Academic journal article Albany Law Review

These Lives Matter, Those Ones Don't: Comparing Execution Rates by the Race and Gender of the Victim in the U.S. and in the Top Death Penalty States

Article excerpt

In a recent article, Baumgartner and colleagues demonstrated based on national statistics that the odds of execution differ dramatically based on the race and gender of the victim. (2) They compared national statistics on homicide victimization, which clearly show that black males are the most likely victims of homicide, with data associated with the victims in execution cases. Black males are a high percent of the overall homicide cases, but a very low percent of the cases where the killer was later executed. In this article we break out these statistics to show their applicability to each of the major death-penalty states, showing that the national pattern is repeated in each individual state, without exception. These stark disparities clearly demonstrate that the death penalty, as applied in every major state, violates the most basic concepts of equal protection.

INTRODUCTION

From 1976 through 2014, 1,394 judicial executions have taken place with 2,179 victims associated with the crimes for which those individuals were sentenced to die. (3) From 1976 through 1999, the U.S. Department of Justice Uniform Crime Reports show 497,030 victims of homicide. (4) In the tables and figures below, we show the correspondence between the race and gender of homicide victims with those whose killers were later executed. (5) Of course, all homicides are not death-eligible, and many occur in states that do not have the death penalty. (6) The disparities we lay out here are so stark, however, that they cannot be explained by these facts. By presenting the simplest possible comparison of homicide victimization with execution cases, we also make clear that certain lives are treated as if they are "more equal" than others; the death penalty creates two categories of victims--those whose deaths demand the harshest punishment, and those whose deaths are "garden variety." (7) To a grieving mother or family member, it is hard to square the concept of "garden variety" homicide with the grief that we can expect to be associated with any tragedy. Our data show that there is indeed a racial and gender hierarchy in homicide victims as this relates to the death penalty, and these trends are similar in every state. Killers of white female victims are more than ten times more likely to be executed by the state than are the killers of black males. (8) Black males, on the other hand, are the most frequent victims of homicide in the United States, by far. (9) Their killers rarely face the death penalty. (10)

In the pages that follow we present data first for the entire United States, then for each of the major death penalty states, in order of the number of executions that state has carried out. We comment on the first set of results, for the United States, then provide identically formatted statistics for each of the states without comment or explanation unless the interpretation of the data is not clear from the discussion above.

A note on data sources and time frames: We make use of three main sources of data in this article. First, data on the victims of inmates executed cover all judicial executions from the post-Furman, period of U.S. capital punishment, 1976 through December 31, 2014. (11) This data was collected by the lead author over many years from public sources and reported in detail in Baumgartner et al. 2015. (12) Data on homicide victimization in general come from Fox 2001 and cover the period from 1976 through 1999. (13) Data on homicide offender-victim combinations come from the FBI's Supplementary Homicide Reports, which match homicide offenders with victims, showing the race and gender breakdown of each and cover the period of 1979 through 2012. (14) These are the most complete and up-to-date databases available. However, there could be concern about the lack of exact time matches. For homicide victimization in general, the data start in the same year as our execution-case database, 1976. However, these data are no longer made available after 1999. …

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