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Study: In North Carolina, Race Still Impacts Use of Death Sentence

July 27, 2010

RALEIGH, N.C. - Race still matters in North Carolina when it comes to handing down the death penalty for those convicted of murder. That's a finding of a study by researchers at the University of Colorado, which shows that, among similar homicides, the odds of a death sentence for those suspected of killing a white person are approximately three times higher than the odds of death for killing a black person.

The death penalty is a major issue for the Tarheel State, with one of the nation's largest death rows. There are currently 155 men and four women facing execution.

Study author Michael Radelet remarks that this finding may come as a surprise to some.

"This is something that I think most people are not aware of, this disparity, this bias, and in order to do anything about it, we first need to be made aware of it and then have a discussion about where to proceed from there."

Radelet and his partner on the study examined more than 15,000 homicides. He's performed similar analyses in other states, and is in favor of "life without parole" instead of a death sentence, which he argues is costly.

"But I'd like to see us use those millions of dollars, and instead focus more on getting murderers off the street and see what we can do about the fact that four out of every 10 murderers are never apprehended. "

Death penalty advocates argue that the punishment is necessary for certain crimes, especially those malicious or cruel in nature.

Last year North Carolina passed the Racial Justice Act, which allows murder suspects and those already on death row to present statistical evidence of racial bias.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC