Study Charges Racial Bias In Houston Death Penalty Decisions


Of 1,100 U.S. executions in 3 decades, Harris County, Tx., which includes Houston, accounts for more than 100. The New York Times says a study to be published in The Houston Law Review found two sorts of racial disparities in the administration of the death penalty there. As other studies have found, defendants who kill whites are more likely to be sentenced to death than those who kill blacks. The study also that the race of the defendant by itself plays a major role in explaining who is sentenced to death. Author Scott Phillips, a professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Denver, found that for every 100 black defendants and 100 white defendants indicted for capital murder in Harris County, an average of 12 whites and 17 blacks would be sent to death row.

Scott Durfee of the Harris County district attorney's office rejected the conclusion and said district attorneys had long taken steps to insulate themselves from knowing the race of defendants and victims as they decided whether to seek the death penalty. Phillips said, however, that once the kinds of murders committed by black defendants were taken into consideration – on average less heinous, less apt to involve vulnerable victims and brutality, and less often committed by an adult – “the bar appears to have been set lower for pursuing death against black defendants.”


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