Race a Factor in Death Penalty, Maryland Report Finds

From Associated Press

Prosecutors in Maryland are much more likely to seek the death penalty in cases where blacks are accused of killing whites, a University of Maryland study released Tuesday says.

The report also concluded that geography plays a major role in whether a defendant faces a potential death sentence, as the decisions by state's attorneys to pursue capital punishment vary widely by county.

Outgoing Gov. Parris Glendening commissioned the report in 2000 in response to concerns that the state's death penalty is unfairly meted out according to race and jurisdiction.

Glendening imposed a moratorium on executions in May while the study was being completed, but Gov.-elect Robert L. Ehrlich has promised to lift the ban when he takes office Jan. 15.

Maryland has 12 men on death row; eight are black and four are white.

Criminologist Ray Paternoster found that the race of the defendant was not significant in death penalty eligible cases, but he wrote that the race of the victim proved a major factor in determining whether prosecutors sought the death penalty.

The race of the victim and offender taken together showed significant differences. Prosecutors filed death notices, indicating their intent to seek the death penalty, in almost half the homicides where a black defendant killed a white victim, but only in about a quarter of all other.

Decisions by prosecutors in the early stages of cases varied dramatically between jurisdictions. "The between-county differences that occur at the beginning of the process have effects that propagate the end of the process," the report concluded.

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