Arizona juries are sending defendants to death row at a much faster pace than did the judges they replaced a year ago under a U.S. Supreme Court decision, the Arizona Republic reports. Seven out of eight Maricopa County (Phoenix) defendants sentenced by juries rather than judges have received the death penalty. Before the law changed, Arizona judges issued death sentences in 29 out of 143 (20.3 percent) cases. Said Deputy Public Defender Gary Bevilacqua: “We’re getting cases where people are sentenced to death when they shouldn’t be.”
Defenders and prosecuting attorneys caution that the number of defendants sentenced under the new law is too small to make sweeping conclusions, but they agree there is a preliminary trend toward death sentences. Prosecutors say jurors are applying the law conscientiously. Defense attorneys predict that the trend will be reversed when lawyers and judges become more experienced with jury sentencing.
Defense attorney Greg Parzych said Arizona attorneys and judges are “feeling their way through the system…It’s unfortunate for the people we’re representing right now.”
Bevilacqua said some judges are not giving lawyers enough time for jury selection, which should include individual questioning of prospective jurors. “If you don’t question jurors adequately, you’re going to get more jurors who lean toward death,” he said. “It’s a conservative state.”