Professor John Donohue of Yale University’s School of Law recently conducted a study of death sentences in Connecticut and found that seeking the death penalty often correlated with the race of the victim and the defendant, and not necessarily with the severity of the crimes, as the law requires. “There was basically no rational system to explain who got the death penalty,” Donohue said. “It really is about as random a process as you can possibly construct.”

After reviewing 207 murder cases dating back to the early 1970s that were eligible for death penalty prosecution, the study found:

  • Black defendants receive death sentences at three times the rate of white defendants in cases where the victims were white.
  • Killers of white victims are treated more severely than people who kill minorities, when it comes time to decide the charges.
  • Minorities who kill whites receive death sentences at higher rates than minorities who kill minorities.

The study is being used in a suit brought by death row inmates in the state challenging the constitutionality of the way the death penalty is being applied. The state has contested the findings of the study. Read the study in full here.

(DAVE COLLINS, “Yale study: racial bias, randomness mar Conn. death penalty cases,” Associated Press, December 12, 2007).

See Arbitrariness and Studies.