There's no way to make the death penalty fair

January 15, 2012

Your article on the trial of two men charged with killing a correctional officer caught my eye because the case could result in the first death sentence in Maryland since the state changed its death penalty law in 2006 ("Trial opens in prison officer's killing," Jan. 12).

A 2003 study found that a defendant is six times more likely to receive the death penalty when the victim is white. Since the victim in this case, Officer David McGuinn, was African-American, it seems statistically unlikely this case will result in the death penalty.

The article didn't note the race of the accused men, which is significant because Caucasians are less likely to receive the death penalty. There have only been 17 executions involving a white defendant and a black victim. But there have been 254 executions involving a black defendant and a white victim.

These figures, along with others suggesting that the racial makeup of juries can also affect the sentencing procedure, suggest that race remains a significant factor in capital cases and that the disparities in sentencing between black and white defendants are systemic elements of a deeply flawed process.

Ryan Greene

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