Study Suggests Racial Bias In MO’s Use Of Death Penalty


In mid-Missouri's Callaway County, there were 22 homicides from 1984 to 2012. Five were punished by execution, or about 23 percent. If the same rate applied to 4,462 homicides in St. Louis, a caseload of overwhelmingly black victims, the state would have executed 1,014 people from those cases but there were just eight, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. That disparity shows that Missouri's application of the death penalty is arbitrary and so unfairly administered that it could be unconstitutional, says a new study from University of North Carolina professor Frank Baumgartner. It's proof that black lives don't matter as much as white lives, when it comes to applying the harshest penalty available, he said.

St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch called Baumgartner's methodology “bogus” and said he was misusing statistics to create a cloud around the death penalty “without having the decency to say the death penalty is wrong and we don't support it.” Kent Scheidegger of the pro-death penalty Criminal Justice Legal Foundation in Sacramento called the study meaningless. “Unfortunately there is an awful lot of violence in the inner-city areas, and a lot of that is gang-related and those tend not to be prosecuted as death penalty cases,” he said. “Another factor is the local jurisdiction. Black victim homicides tend to be in jurisdictions that have a high proportion of black population, and support for the death penalty is lower in that population (and) those jurisdictions tend to elect (prosecutors) who seek the death penalty less often…”

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