Raleigh, N.C. — A new study by two university researchers has found that someone convicted of killing a white person in North Carolina is three times more likely to be sentenced to death than someone who kills a black person.
Michael Radelet, a sociology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Glenn Pierce, a research scientist in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Boston, examined 15,281 homicides in North Carolina between 1980 and 2007, of which 368 resulted in death sentences.
They obtained information on all death row cases in which the victim was either black or white, and they looked for any additional factors, such as multiple victims or homicides accompanied by a rape, robbery or other felony, that might explain the disparity in death penalty sentencing.
These additional factors partially explained death penalty decisions, they said, but even after statistically controlling for their effect, race remained an important predictor of who was sentenced to death.
“It’s just kind of baffling that, in this day and age, race matters,” Radelet, one of the nation’s leading experts on the death penalty, said in a statement.
The study, which will be published in The North Carolina Law Review next year, is the first examination of the death penalty in North Carolina since state lawmakers passed the Racial Justice Act last year.
The law allows murder suspects and those already on death row to present statistical evidence of racial bias to ensure that the race of the defendant or victim doesn¹t play a key role in the sentence the defendant receives in death penalty cases.
“Given these findings, (we) would advocate continuous monitoring of the death penalty in North Carolina to see if patterns of racial bias change,” Radelet said.