committing death-eligible crimes? According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (2016), African Americans (primarily men) have been arrested for about half of the murders and nonnegligent homi- cides reported to police annually. Is a comparison of that 50% to the 34.52% of executions enough to establish racial disparities in the other direction?
What about race of victims? A review of supplementary homicide reports shows that African Americans (again, mostly males) consistently account for about half the murder victims each year (Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2016); yet only about 15% of the victims of executed defendants were African American (see Table 31.1 ). Table 31.2 reveals that 282 blacks were executed for killing whites, compared with only 20 whites executed for killing blacks. Further, a study of executions from 1977–2013 reported that just ten whites were executed following conviction for killing a black male (Baumgartner, Grigg, & Mastro, 2015). Data maintained by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC) show that of 1,448 executions carried out from 1977 through mid-March 2017, 11 executions involved white males convicted of killing at least one black male victim, while 159 involved black males convicted of killing at least one white male. Likewise, of 1,436 executions between 1977 and mid-2016, 150 (10.4%) involved a black male convicted of killing a white female. This compares with 14 executions of a white male for killing a black female. Almost 85% of the executions of black males convicted of killing white females occurred in the South; a quarter of all modern era executions in Alabama fi t this profi le, as did 17% of those in Louisiana and Virginia, respectively. Is this evidence of racial discrimination within America’s capital punishment system? The answer, to date, is probably no. At the very least, politicians and policy makers want to see comparisons of cases that are truly similarly situated from a legal perspective. That is, they want to see what happens regarding race of the defendant and/or victim when other factors related to the case are held constant—when such variables are used as controls as they were in the Baldus et al. (1990) study presented in McCleskey v. Kemp (1987).
A plethora of research has been conducted in many jurisdictions in an attempt to provide valid, reliable, replicable fi ndings in regard to race and the death penalty after controlling for other issues relating to the cases. In addition to the data presented in McCleskey , a couple of early studies set the tone for the many studies to come. One of the early studies of post- Furman cases used information from homicide reports in Louisiana from 1976 until the end of 1982. Results revealed that defendants charged with murdering white victims were two times as likely to receive a sentence of death com- pared to defendants who had killed African Americans, regardless of the race of the defendant and while controlling for a number of mitigating circumstances (Smith, 1987).
Similarly, a series of studies of capital cases in Kentucky suggested that a black defendant convicted of killing a white individual was signifi cantly more likely to receive a death sentence than others who had been convicted of murder. Aside from race, the only other signifi cant predictor of a black defendant receiving a capital sentence was if the defendant was charged with killing more than one person. These results held true even after controlling for factors such as the level of seriousness of the offense, prior criminal record of the defendant, and prior relationship of the defendant and victim (Keil & Vito, 1989, 1990, 1995).
Some researchers have asserted that racial disparities in certain jurisdictions can be explained by prior relationships between the defendant and the victim. For instance, black murderers with white victims have been shown to be signifi cantly less likely to know their victims. These stranger killings might be viewed as more dangerous to jury members than murders that involve a family member, friend, or other acquaintance (Gillespie, Loughran, Smith, Fogel, & Bjerregaard, 2014). Given that white defendants were more likely to know their victims, the racial bias might actually be against the white offenders who received death sentences, because they were generally considered by jurors to be less dangerous than black defendants who received the death penalty ( Heilbrun, Foster, & Golden, 1989; Paternoster, 1983).
Thomson (1997) found that white offenders received a