Someone accused of killing a white person in North Carolina is nearly three times as likely to get the death penalty than someone accused of killing a black person, says a new study by two researchers who looked at death sentences over a 28-year period, reports the Raleigh News & Observer. The findings come as many in North Carolina are focusing on the death penalty and race. Death-row inmates have only a few more weeks to file challenges to their sentences under the Racial Justice Act approved by the legislature last year.
For the study, called one of the most comprehensive yet the modern administration of the death penalty in North Carolina, Michael Radelet of the University of Colorado in Boulder, and Glenn Pierce of the Northeastern University school of criminology, examined 15,281 homicides in the state from 1980 through 2007. Of those, 368 resulted in death sentences. Jay Ferguson, a defense lawyer in Durham, said the study found what others have shown – that it’s not so much the race of the defendant, but the race of the victim, that determines the punishment. “I think, over the years, the white-victim cases seem to get more attention in the criminal justice system,” Ferguson said. “They seem to get more attention from the district attorneys and the juries. The legislature has made it clear that if we’re going to have a death penalty in North Carolina, it’s got to be colorblind. And these studies show it’s not.”