A convicted murderer is far more likely to be sentenced to death in California if the victim is white and if the crime occurs in a predominantly white, rural county, says a study to be published in the Santa Clara University law review, reports the San Jose Mercury News. In an examination of more than 260 death penalty cases and data on California murders during the 1990s, two researchers concluded the state is plagued by racial and geographical disparities that have been identified in other capital punishment states.
The study, issued yesterday by the American Civil Liberties Union, found that defendants who murder whites are four times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who kill Latinos, and three times more likely to face execution than those who murder African-Americans. There are more black and Latino murder victims than white murder victims. The study was conducted by criminologist Glenn Pierce of Northeastern University, and Michael Radelet, a Colorado University sociology professor. California, with nearly 650 condemned inmates, has the largest death row in the nation. The study discounted race of the murderer as a central factor in the imposition of a death sentence; in some other states, critics say black defendants have been unfairly targeted. California has executed 11 men since restoring the death penalty in 1978 and may be on the brink of more executions in the coming year.