John Donohue's (Stanford) recent exhaustive work on the death penalty in Connecticut (forthcoming in JELS) provides a comprehensive view of one state's experience with the capital punishment. In addition to troubling findings about the death penalty's application, the paper also speaks to the array of difficulties judges and jurors too often face when trying to differentiate between competing quantitative claims admitted into evidence. An excerpted summary of the paper's main findings follows.
“This article analyzes the 205 death-eligible murders leading to homicide convictions in Connecticut from 1973-2007 to determine if discriminatory and arbitrary factors influenced capital outcomes. A regression analysis controlling for an array of legitimate factors relevant to the crime, defendant, and victim provides overwhelming evidence that minority defendants who kill white victims are capitally charged at substantially higher rates than minority defendants who kill minorities, that geography influences both capital charging and sentencing decisions (with the location of a crime in Waterbury being the single most potent influence on which death-eligible cases will lead to a sentence of death), and that the Connecticut death penalty system has not limited its application to the worst of the worst death-eligible defendants….
There is also strong and statistically significant evidence that minority defendants who kill whites are more likely to end up with capital sentences than comparable cases with white defendants. Regression estimates of the effect of both race and geography on death sentencing reveal the disparities can be glaring….”