A new study of the Texas death penalty, released as the state was conducting its 400th modern-era execution in a case involving a white victim, has documented overwhelming racial disparities in the Lone Star state’s capital punishment system.
Reviewing more than 15,000 capital murder convictions in Texas from 1973 to 2018, University of Detroit Mercy School of Law Dean Jelani Jefferson Exum (pictured left) and University of Cincinnati School of Public and International Affairs Associate Professor Dr. David Niven (pictured right), found “a stark disparity” in whose lives mattered in Texas capital cases based on the race of the victim and the race of the defendant. “The Texas death penalty data shows how pervasive race is in death penalty outcomes,” Exum and Niven write in their Summer 2022 article, Where Black Lives Matter Less: Understanding the Impact of Black Victims on Sentencing Outcomes in Texas Capital Murder Cases from 1973 to 2018, in the St. Louis University Law Journal.
“Race,” they say, “is everywhere.”
Exum and Niven found that a death sentence was more than three times as likely to be imposed in Texas in a case involving a white victim than in a case with a Black victim. While 5.2% of Texas 15,394 capital murder convictions resulted in death sentences, death was imposed in 8.5% of white-victim cases compared with 2.7% of Black-victim cases.
“Taken in sum,” they wrote, “we see: a race of victim disparity in death sentences overall; a race of victim disparity in death sentences sorted by race of defendant; a race of victim disparity in death sentences sorted by weapon used; a race of victim disparity in cases with a single victim; and a race of victim disparity in multiple victim cases. … In every single comparison, the racial disparity was statistically significant. In every single comparison, harsher punishment was associated with white victims than with African American victims, who clearly mattered less.”
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