Women

BOOKS: "Proof of Guilt: Barbara Graham and the Politics of Executing Women in America"

A new book by Kathleen Cairns explores the intriguing story of Barbara Graham, who was executed for murder in California in 1955, and whose case became a touchstone in the ongoing debate over capital punishment. In Proof of Guilt: Barbara Graham and the Politics of Executing Women in America, Cairns examines how different narratives portrayed Graham, with prosecutors describing her as mysterious and seductive, while some of the media emphasized Graham's abusive and lonely childhood. The book also describes how Graham’s case became crucial to the death-penalty abolitionists of the time, as questions of guilt were used to raise awareness of the arbitrary and capricious nature of the death penalty.

STUDIES:"Death Penalty for Female Offenders"

Professor Victor Streib (pictured) of the Ohio Northern University Law School has published the latest edition of his periodic reports, Death Penalty for Female Offenders. This study offers statistics and information related to women who have been executed or are currently on death row.  Among the report’s findings are:
- In 2011, women constituted 6.4% of all persons sentenced to death, the highest percentage for any year since 1973.
- As of the end of 2011, fifty-eight (58) women were on death row, 18 of whom are in California, which hasn’t executed a woman since 1962.
- California, Texas and Florida were the leading states for sentencing women to death from 1973 through 2011.
- A total of 174 death sentences were imposed upon female offenders from 1973 through 2011. These 174 death sentences for female offenders constitute just 2.1% of all death sentences imposed during the same time period.
- Approximately 50% of the women on death row received the death penalty for killing a husband, boyfriend, a related child, or a child in her care.
-There have been 12 executions of women since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, just under 1% of all executions in that time.

Texas Woman May be Spared Death Penalty Because of Prosecutorial Misconduct

Chelsea Richardson (pictured), the first woman in Tarrant County, Texas, to be sentenced to death, may soon be serving a life sentence instead. Six years after her conviction, Tarrant County District Attorney Joe Shannon agreed with Richardson’s appellate attorney that the prosecutor at her trial withheld evidence that could have affected the jury's sentence. This development would mark the second time in three years that the outcome of a death penalty case was changed due to misconduct by former prosecutor Mike Parrish. D.A. Shannon said, "This office will not be a party to the infliction of death as a punishment
when there is even an appearance of impropriety on the part of a prosecutor who formerly worked in this office. If the death penalty is to be used, it must be obtained legally, fairly and honestly and without the hint of a possible injustice."  In Richardson’s case, Parrish withheld a psychologist's notes from the defense team. Richardson was sentenced to death for being the mastermind behind the murders of her boyfriend’s parents. Her co-conspirators both received life sentences. The psychologist’s notes could have convinced jurors that one of the co-defendants was most responsible for the crime.

NEW RESOURCES: DPIC Podcast Addresses Women and the Death Penalty.

The latest edition of the Death Penalty Information Center's series of podcasts, DPIC on the Issues, is now available. This podcast addresses Women and the Death Penalty, including a short history of women executed in America, the possibility of gender bias, and differences between women and men in support of the death penalty.  Generally, this series of podcasts offers brief, informative discussions of key death penalty issues. Other recent episodes include discussions on Mental Illness and Lethal Injection. Click here to listen to DPIC's latest podcast. You can also subscribe through iTunes to receive automatic updates when new episodes are posted and receive access to all previous episodes. Other audio and video resources, along with all of DPIC's podcasts, can be found on our Multimedia page.

STUDIES: Gender Bias in Death Sentencing

A recent study by Professor Steven Shatz of the University of San Francisco Law School and Naomi Shatz of the New York Civil Liberties Union suggests that gender bias continues to exist in the application of the death penalty, and that this bias has roots in the historic notion of chivalry.  In a review of 1,300 murder cases in California between 2003 and 2005, the authors found gender disparities with respect to both defendants and victims in the underlying crime.  The study revealed that the influence of gender-based values was particularly pronounced in certain crimes: gang murders (few death sentences), rape murders (many death sentences), and domestic violence murders (few death sentences). The authors concluded: "The present study confirms what earlier studies have shown: that the death penalty is imposed on women relatively infrequently and that it is disproportionately imposed for the killing of women.  Thus, the death penalty in California appears to be applied in accordance with stereotypes about women’s innate abilities, their roles in society, and their capacity for violence. Far from being gender neutral, the California death penalty seems to allow prejudices and stereotypes about violence and gender, chivalric values, to determine who lives and who dies."

Two New Federal Death Sentences in Non-Death Penalty State

On May 29, 2007, a jury in Charleston, West Virginia, recommended death sentences for George Lecco and Valerie Friend for the murder of Carla Collins in order to protect their drug ring.  Prosecutors maintained that Lecco arranged to have Collins killed and that Friend did the shooting in 2005.  Formal sentencing was scheduled for August 23.  The judge is required to follow the jury's recommendation.  These are the first federal death sentences in West Virginia since the federal law was reinstated in 1988.  (Charleston Daily Mail, May 29, 2007).  West Virginia is the sixth state without its own death penalty to have a federal death sentence handed down.  All such sentences have come since 2000.  Valerie Friend will be the second woman on federal death row. 

NEW RESOURCES: “Death Penalty for Female Offenders”

A new report by Victor Streib, Professor of Law at Ohio Northern University, highlights trends in the death penalty regarding female offenders. The report shows that the death penalty in the United States is rarely imposed on women. Of the approximately 8,200 death sentences that have been imposed across the U.S. since 1973, less than 2% have been imposed on female defendants (167 out of 8,292, at the time of the report’s publication). Additionally, only 1% of executions in the modern era (since 1976) have been of women (12 out of 1232). The report also shows that over 50% of women currently on death row were convicted of killing a close family member.  Most women were convicted of killing their husbands or boyfriends, or children close to them. Finally, the study observed that the execution of women accounted for only 0.6% of all executions since the 1900s. When compared to earlier eras in American history, this data indicates that the practice of executing women is rarer than in previous centuries.  Click here for full report.

Virginia Governor Denies Clemency to Woman with Low IQ

On September 17, Governor Robert McDonnell announced that he would not grant clemency to Teresa Lewis, who is scheduled to be executed in Virginia on September 23.  Requests for a commutation of her death sentence had come from thousands of individuals, from mental health groups, the European Union and novelist John Grisham.  Many had pointed to the fact that two co-defendants in the murders that sent Lewis to death row had received life sentences, even though

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