Study Finds Stark Racial Disparities in Missouri Death Penalty

07.27.15

A new study shows that over 80 percent of people executed in Missouri were convicted of killing white victims, even though white victims are less than 40 percent of all murder victims in the state.

Released last week, the study documents substantial disparities by race and gender of the victim as well as geography. It found that homicides involving white female victims are nearly 14 times more likely to result in an execution than those involving Black male victims. White women represent just 12 percent of all homicide victims, but comprise 37 percent of the victims in execution cases.

In contrast, Black men represent 52 percent of all homicide victims, but just 12 percent of those executed were convicted of killing Black men. Only one white person has been executed in Missouri for the crime of killing a Black person.

The study also found that a small handful of counties are responsible for the vast majority Missouri’s executions. In fact, 92 of the state’s 114 counties have had no executions, and just 3 counties and the independent city of St. Louis account for 44 of the 80 executions that have taken place since 1976.

These disparities “differ by orders of magnitude,” the study concludes, “clearly demonstrating that vast inequities characterize the implementation of capital punishment in Missouri.” Study author Frank Baumgartner of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that these findings are proof that Black lives do not matter as much as white lives.

“If left unaddressed, these racial, gender, and geographic disparities may erode judicial and public confidence in the state‚Äôs ability to fairly administer the ultimate punishment,” Baumgartner concludes. “A punishment that is so arbitrarily and unfairly administered could reasonably be deemed unconstitutional.”

Last month, United States Supreme Court Justices raised questions about the constitutionality of the death penalty in part because the death penalty is tainted by racial bias and is geographically arbitrary.