Which convicted murderers deserve to die? Lawyers routinely challenge the death penalty as arbitrary. A new analysis in Tennessee, believed to be one of the most comprehensive of its kind, attempts to put new numbers and data behind that argument, The Tennessean reports. Lawyers examined more than 2,000 first-degree murder cases, the only crime punishable by a death sentence, since 1977, when capital punishment was reinstated in Tennessee. They say the numbers show the death penalty is imposed infrequently and unfairly, and that the system as a whole is unconstitutional. “This is the first time this kind of information has been laid before the court,” said Brad MacLean, a lawyer involved in the study, who for 20 years has represented a man on death row. “If we’re going to remain true to the principles set forth by the Supreme Court, there is no logical way, no rational way we can sustain this system. It really operates like a lottery. It’s a crapshoot. It’s like being struck by lightning whether you get executed or not.”
The key findings of the analysis are outlined in a motion filed by MacLean. He is asking Nashville Judge Monte Watkins to deem the death penalty unconstitutional as part of an appeal on behalf of Abu-Ali Abdur Rahman. Abdur’Rahman, who formerly used the name James L. Jones, has been on death row nearly 30 years. Those who support the death penalty say they’ve heard this argument before. They say it is just another attempt to delay, which harms grieving victim’s families even further. On Thursday, the Tennessee Supreme Court will consider whether the state’s single-drug lethal injection protocol is constitutional. The case could clear the way for the court to reset execution dates that have been halted for years because of challenges. The new court arguments come as support for the death penalty has hit a 40-year low, says a new Pew poll.