To Kill or Not to Kill. That is, If the Price is Too High?

The Chicago Tribune, along with other national and local news outlets, has recently published numerous articles surrounding the possible end of the death penalty.

I would like to thank state governments around the country to have the testicular fortitude to address such an imperative concern. Is it possible that they directed their attention to the issue because as of August 26, 2008, some 130 death row inmates have been exonerated in 26 states? It had to be, right?

No, the call for social justice had to come from the fact that “82% of the studies [reviewed], race of the victim was found to influence the likelihood of being charged with capital murder or receiving the death penalty, i.e., those who murdered whites were found more likely to be sentenced to death than those who murdered blacks.” Moreover, this is evident with the number of executions that have occurred since 1976. Wrong again?

Ok, it had to be because the disproportionate rate of Black males to non-Black males on death row caused the ethical and moral bones within their bodies to ache.

In reality, the real cause for the debate over the death penalty surfacing again is not because of moral, ethical, religious, or even statistical evidence that has proven time and time again that the death penalty does not curb the rate of serious malicious crimes from occurring.

Money! Money is the motive for the dialogue. The lack of the almighty dollar within the hands of states during the current U.S. economic crisis, coupled with the millions states utilize to contest years of legal appeals, has made the nation second guess the efficiency of killing another human being.

Amnesty International states that, “a 2003 legislative audit in Kansas found that the estimated cost of a death penalty case was 70% more than the cost of a comparable non-death penalty case.” Moreover, the New York Times wrote a story in which “a judge in a small, poor Ohio county told prosecutors there this month that they could not seek the death penalty in the murder of a college student because the county’s share of the defense costs would be too great.”

I guess it is true as Henry Louis Mencken states, “Injustice is relatively easy to bear; what stings is justice.”


  1. lauren

    Dr. Fitzgerald, I appreciate this submission–It is curious that the most effective reason to do away with the death penalty might be monetary, perhaps this is a good example of how good morals are also good economics? I’m a little surprised to see a post referencing “testicular fortitude” on this blog–even though those are big words, they still imply a sexist notion.

  2. Dr. Terence Fitzgerald Author

    Thank you Lauren for the comments. But if you notice the section I placed the phrase is plainly my attempt to play sarcasticlly with ideas and language.

  3. Ok, it had to be because the disproportionate rate of Black males to non-Black males on death row caused the ethical and moral bones within their bodies to ache.

    Actually, it’s whites who are overrepresented on death row when you take into account murder rates. A slight majority of the murders committed in the US are committed by blacks, whereas more than half of the prisoners on death row are white and nearly twice as many whites as blacks have been executed since 1983.

  4. Dr. Terence Fitzgerald Author

    Again, when talking about the overrepresentation of Blacks on death row, I am referring to the proportion on death row in relations to the population of Blacks in the U.S. Therefore, Black are those most likely to be on death row.

  5. I get that, but I don’t see why it’s a meaningful basis for comparison. If we want to know whether the death penalty is being applied in a racist manner, the question to ask is whether a black murderer is more likely to be executed than a white murderer.

  6. jwbe

    “Another measure of race’s impact on the death penalty is the combined effect of the race of the defendant and the race of the victim. In the Philadelphia study, the racial combination which was most likely to result in a death sentence was a black defendant with a nonblack victim, regardless of how severe the murder committed. Black-on-black crimes were less likely to receive a death sentence, followed by crimes by other defendants, regardless of the race of their victims.

    As noted above, in cases deemed to be least severe and those found to be most severe, the connection between race and the likelihood of a death sentence tends to lessen. For example, few defendants of any race are likely to get the death penalty in a case involving defendants with no prior record and where the killing may have been accidental. But for the bulk of crimes which are in the mid-level of severity, blacks who kill nonblacks are more likely to receive the death penalty than blacks who kill blacks, and they have a death sentencing rate much larger than the rate for defendants of other races who commit similarly severe murders of black victims.

    It is important to note that these mid-range cases are precisely the ones in which prosecutors and jurors have the most discretion on seeking and imposing the death penalty. And when discretion is more prevalent, race may more easily become the deciding factor in who lives and who dies.

    These results are summarized in the graph below. Reading the graph from left to right, black defendants, regardless of their victims’ race, are consistently more likely to receive a death sentence than other defendants, and this holds true to varying degrees throughout the increasing levels of crime severity. Similarly, black victim cases are less likely to receive the death penalty, regardless of the race of the defendant. ”

  7. siss

    jwbe: was the link you posted in response to Brandon? If so, why did you reference non-current data? I read the article and while very informative and accurate descriptions of disparities from that time period (1974-1998-ish) the data is more than ten years old. This particular article is not a current reflection of trends in 2009.

  8. Seattle in Texas

    jwbe, thank you for putting up the wonderful source–it is very helpful. You have already championed both questions and discussion on this issue earlier. Please allow me to accent if I may. I was thinking, well take a moment to read this passage if you will:

    “…the last time that a death sentence had been carried out in Texas was in 1964, when a convicted murderer named Joseph Johnson was electrocuted. He had been the 361st Texas prison inmate put to death since the state had, in 1924, assumed the responsibility. Prior to that, the law of the Old West had generally applied to cattle rustlers, bank robbers, murderers, and whoever else was judged to be a blight to the community. Authorities of the country in which they committed crimes—or were unfortunate enough to be arrested—wielded swift justice at the nearest hanging tree.” (Pickett 2003: 54).

    We know not all executions take place in a federal death chamber here in the U.S….. We know what the last part of that passage meant as well—that one was just pertaining to officials and not lynch mob terrorist groups (as if the officials weren’t part of them…). And not to mention the work of Stewart E. Tolnay and E.M. Beck’s work on their analysis of southern lynchings from 1882-1930 focused on states east of Texas here with relation to lynch mobs who work with approximately 7,000+ known brutal murders of Black people that took place by white lynch mobs.

    The piece you put up is important because it shows not much has changed with relation to the white supremacist trend in general this nation prides itself on.

    While my information is only focused on Texas, here are some numbers if you are interested from the TCADP (January 1, 2009):

    Racial Makeup of the Texas Death Row of 346 men and 10 women:

    Black: 41%
    white: 30%
    Hispanic: 27%
    Other: 1%

    Who will get stays and who will not is another discussion. But here are the figures of the total number of offenders sentenced to death, by county (same source):

    Travis: 16
    Tarrant: 66
    Nueces: 22
    Lubbock: 18
    Jefferson: 22
    Hidalgo: 15
    *Harris: 280
    El Paso: 18
    Dallas: 97
    Bexar: 76

    And a person very respected person sent this information just recently:

    DEATH PENALTY-US: Charges of Racism Offer New Evidence
    By Michael J. Carter

    SEATTLE, May 26 (IPS) – Race played a “real” role in deciding who was sentenced to death in hundreds of capital trials over a seven-year period in one Texas county, according to new academic research to be published shortly.

    Black defendants were more likely to be sentenced to death than white ones, according to Scott Phillips, a professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Denver. Blacks were also more likely to be sent to death row for murders which were less heinous than those committed by whites.

    “My research suggests that those (racial) disparities are real,” Phillips told IPS. The full study will be published in the Houston Law Review this autumn.

    Phillips examined the impact of race in some 504 cases where the Harris County public prosecutor sought the death penalty between 1992 and 1999. Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in the U.S. in 1976, Harris County has been responsible for 102 of the country’s 1,100 executions – more than any U.S. state other than Texas itself.

    Now—something else to think about. Here are some averages on how much it costs the state to carry out the death penalty versus life in prison, provided by the Dallas Morning News on March 8, 1992 (imagine what they might be today):


    court personnel $74,000
    jury panel $17,220
    2 defense attorneys, expert witnesses, investigators $112,400
    3 prosecuting attorneys $38,052
    judge $23,968

    Total: $265,640

    State Appeals:

    defense $15,000
    prosecution $29,000
    reproducing trial records $20,000
    court of criminal appeals $30,240

    Total: $94,240

    Federal Appeal:

    defense $92,000
    state attorney general’s office $19,600
    appellate court $1,708,000

    Total: 1,819,600

    Death Row Incarceration:

    1 inmate $136,875

    Total Cost: 2,316,355

    vs. Life in Prison $750,000

    I will cut it here to minimize the length of this post. Thank you again for your post and please pass on any more of the like that you may have or come across. They are both important and useful.

  9. Seattle in Texas

    Was not sure where to put this, in the event there were any progressive folks out there who would be interested in signing this very important petition (you can sign without your name being publicly displayed) and then kindly passing around—so it is placed here:

    (Side Note for anybody interested: WA has carried out a total of 4 executions since 1976 and is the only state in the US to still have gallows. In the rules there, those to be executed have the choice of hanging or lethal injection—if no preference is stated, then the state shall employ lethal injection by default…).

  10. Seattle in Texas

    (sorry for the double post: Note to the above–while a temporary stay for Jose Briseno has been recently put into effect, please do not let that news discourage anybody from signing and passing forward. Thank you,)


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