03. Death Row Demographics and Murder Statistics

John H. Blume and Theodore Eisenberg, Law, and Martin T. Wells, Industrial and Labor Relations/Biological Statistics and Computational Biology, compared death row demographics with murder statistics in a study that was the first of its kind. The researchers examined the population and racial composition of death rows in relation to the number of murders and the race of murder defendants and victims. The large death row populations in California, Florida, and particularly Texas, with a very high murder rate, may lead to the belief that these states have high death sentence rates. However, after accounting for a state’s number of murders, Oklahoma and Nevada were more death-prone states than any of the big three states. The study also showed that the South has the lowest percentage of black murder defendants on death row when compared with the general prison population. This is due in part to a reluctance to seek the death penalty in black-on-black murder cases because of a “racial hierarchy”: black defendants who murder white victims receive the highest rate of death sentences; whites who murder whites receive the second highest; whites who murder blacks receive the third highest; and blacks who murder blacks receive the lowest. This race-of-defendant effect had been undetectable in previous empirical studies.

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