Last month, the Supreme Court heard arguments in the appeal of a black man from Louisiana convicted by an all-white jury. In his case, the prosecutor admonished jurors to not let the defendant get away with murder like O.J. Simpson, reports the Kansas City Star. The prosecutor's alleged desire to strike blacks from the jury highlights what many see as the ongoing racial disparity in how capital punishment is meted in this country.
Whether real or perceived, when black defendants face a jury with no black faces in it, particularly in a case involving the question of life or death, they are often left with the feeling of being unfairly judged, say some attorneys and death penalty researchers. “Perception is reality,” said Kansas City defense attorney John P. O'Connor. “The perception of justice is often as important as justice itself.” Blacks are disproportionately represented on the nation's death rows. And blacks who kill whites are overwhelmingly more likely to be executed than blacks who kill other blacks or whites who kill blacks. Since 1976, when capital punishment in its current form was established, 223 black defendants have been put to death for killing white victims; during that same period, only 15 white defendants have been executed for killing black victims. Last year, of the 14 black defendants put to death, victims were white in 10 of those cases. Twenty-two whites have been put to death this year. None of the victims was black.