Race and Inequality

Race and Death Sentencing for Oklahoma Homicides Committed between 1990 and 2012

Susan Sharp
Professor of Sociology, University of Oklahoma

Key Findings

  • Regardless of the race of the defendant, the data show that the odds of receiving a death sentence for defendants whose victims are white females is 9.59 times higher than in cases with minority male victims.
  • The odds of receiving a death sentence for defendants whose victims are white males is 3.22 times higher than the odds of a death sentence with minority male victims.
  • The odds of a death sentence for defendants whose victims are minority females is 8.68 times higher than the odds of a death sentence with minority male victims.

Description

In the article, “Race and Death Sentencing for Oklahoma Homicides Committed Between 1990 and 2012,” Sharp and her co-authors sought to determine the extent to which race – both of the victim and the defendant – was a factor in death sentencing. The study examined 153 cases of homicide that occurred in Oklahoma over a twenty-three- year period (between January 1, 1990 and December 31, 2012) in which the defendant received a death sentence. The authors found that the defendant’s race did not correlate with a death sentence. However, there was a strong correlation with race of the victim, such that cases with white victims were significantly more likely to end with a death sentence than cases with nonwhite victims. Homicides with female victims were also more likely to result in a death sentence than other cases. Lastly, having one or more additional legally relevant factors present in the case (such as a homicide event with more than one victim, or one in which there were additional felony circumstances) was found to be a significant predictor of a defendant receiving a death sentence.

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