IN MEMORIAM: David Baldus

On June 13, 2011, law professor and noted researcher David Baldus died in Iowa City, IA. Professor Baldus had been a professor at the University of Iowa since 1969 and taught criminal law, anti-discrimination law, and capital punishment and federal criminal law. He was nationally recognized for his research on the death penalty. Professor Baldus conducted many studies regarding the implementation of capital punishment in the United States. One well-known study, conducted in 1983, examined the presence of racial discrimination in capital sentencing in Georgia. Baldus’s research found that the odds of defendants receiving the death penalty were 4.3 times greater if they were accused of killing white victims than if they were accused of killing black victims.  Professor Baldus received national recognition when his studies  were cited in McCleskey v. Kemp, a U.S. Supreme Court case regarding racial bias in the implementation of the death penalty. “He was one of the nation’s outstanding law professors and a great citizen of the university," said Sandy Boyd, former president of the University of Iowa. “He had a great warmth and concern for others.”

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Confederate Flag Outside Louisiana Courthouse Evokes Claims of Bias

A black defendant facing execution in Louisiana for the killing of a white firefighter is challenging the fairness of his trial because a Confederate flag was flying outside the Caddo Parish courthouse in Shreveport, Louisiana, during the proceedings.  Felton Dorsey’s legal team recently argued before the Louisiana Supreme Court that the presence of the flag had an impact on jury selection and on Dorsey’s conviction. Carl Staples, a prospective black juror, was struck from the case by prosecutors after he complained about the Confederate flag. Staples told the court that the flag "is a symbol of one of the most…heinous crimes ever committed.”  He explained, "When I was screened for the jury, it welled up inside of me and I expressed my feelings."  The flag has flown in front of the courthouse since 1951.  Dorsey has maintained his innocence and also argued prosecutors used unreliable accomplice testimony and improperly removed most of the prospective black jurors from the case. He was convicted by a jury that consisted of 11 white individuals and one African American.

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NEW RESOURCES: Most Recent DEATH ROW USA Report Now Available

The latest edition of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund's "Death Row USA" shows that the number of people on the death row in the United States is continuing to slowly decline, falling to 3,260 as of April 1, 2010. In 2000, there were 3,682 inmates on death row.  Nationally, the racial composition of those on death row is 44% white, 41% black, and 12% Latino/Latina. California continues to have the largest death row population (702), followed by Florida (398) and Texas (333). Pennsylvania (222) and Alabama (204) complete the list of the states with the five largest death rows in the country. Of those jurisdictions with more than 10 inmates on death row, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Texas have the largest percentage of minorities on death row--each has 69%.

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STUDIES: New Report Cites Multiple Problems with North Carolina's Death Penalty

According to a comprehensive review of studies on the death penalty by Matthew Robinson, Professor of Government and Justice Studies at Appalachian State University, the death penalty in North Carolina is expensive, racially biased and ineffective.  Prof. Robinson analyzed data from more than 20 death penalty studies and found them to be remarkably consistent in their conclusions.  He said, "In the past six years, three states have abolished the death penalty: Illinois, New Mexico and New Jersey.  They did it for the same reason. They found racial bias, they found it to be costly, they found it to be ineffective and a threat to innocent people."  According to Robinson's review, use of the death penalty in North Carolina has been in decline since 2000.  The state has not had an execution since 2006.  He found no evidence that the death penalty deters crime, noting that the state's murder rate has declined since executions stopped in 2006.  He also found evidence of racial bias in the state's death penalty system.  Nearly 80% of death sentences imposed in North Carolina have been in cases where the victim was white, far higher than the percentage of whites who are generally victims of murder.

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NEW RESOURCE: "Legacy of Violence"

"Legacy of Violence: Lynch Mobs and Executions in Minnesota," a book by John D. Bessler (University of Minnesota Press, 2003), examines the history of illegal and state-sanctioned executions in Minnesota, one of twelve states that currently does not have the death penalty. The book is timely in that the current governor, Tim Pawlenty, has proposed reinstating the death penalty, which was abolished in 1911. The book includes detailed personal accounts from those who were involved in the events, as well as a history of Minnesota's anti-execution and anti-lynching movements, a review of historical wrongful convictions, and an analysis of the role that the media played in the death penalty debate. The author recounts the details of the largest mass execution in the U.S. of 38 Native Americans in Mankato in 1862 at the order of President Lincoln, and the brutal lynching in Duluth of 3 African-Americans accused of rape.

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STUDIES: In Louisiana, Odds of a Death Sentence 97% Higher If Victim is White

A recent study conducted by Professors Glenn Pierce and Michael Radelet published in the Lousiana Law Review showed that the odds of a death sentence in parts of Louisiana were 2.6 times higher for those charged with killing a white victim than for those charged with killing a black victim. The study examined 191 homicides in East Baton Rouge Parish between 1990 and 2008 involving a charge of first-degree murder. Even after considering other variables such as the number of aggravating circumstances, the number of concurrent felonies and the number of homicide victims, the odds of a death sentence were 97% higher for those whose victim was white than for those whose victim was black. The authors of the study suggested that one reason why the victim’s race was an important factor was because “prosecutors’ offices, jurors, judges, investigating police officers, and others involved in constructing a death penalty case are (consciously or unconsciously) not as outraged or energized, on average, when a black is murdered as when a white is murdered.” The authors said “death penalty cases are expensive, and choices need to be made on how often the death penalty can be sought and in which cases” and that “the social status of the victim and the family of the victim, including his or her race, increases [a case's] importance.”

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