At the Death House Door

At the Death House Door (IMDB), which won the Full Frame Inspiration Award, tells the fascinating story of Carroll Pickett, a Presbyterian minister from Huntsville, Texas, who served for fifteen years as the prison’s death house chaplain, presiding over nearly 100 executions, including the state’s–and the world’s–first lethal injection. The film, directed by Steve James and Peter Gilbert (both of whom worked on 1994’s Hoop Dreams), narrates Pickett’s conversion from a supporter of the death penalty to an opponent, in part because Pickett began to recognize many of the inherent flaws in the death penalty. We are reminded, for example, that blacks and Latinos are far more likely to be executed than whites and that people who are innocent have been executed. But Pickett’s conversion is also a moral one based on the decision that the Bible teaches that taking a life is wrong, even when it’s being done as punishment by the state.

It’s quite clear that, from the beginning, Pickett was haunted by the demands of his ministry, which consisted, in part, of ensuring that the inmate would be relatively compliant when led into the execution chamber. To work through those mixed emotions, Pickett recorded audio tapes after every execution, discussing the details of the case, his conversations with the prisoner, anything to help him make sense of what he was doing. While we hear only bits and pieces of Pickett’s audio reflections, they offer an incredible resource, an oral history of Pickett’s evolution into a death penalty opponent. The tapes were originally meant for Pickett’s private use. His wife and children knew nothing about the tapes, and Pickett had never listened to them after making the recordings, but clearly he felt the need to save them, and we see them carefully preserved in plastic boxes. And as Pickett’s story unfolds, we realize that there are a few cases, in particular, that haunt him, including the case of Carlos deLuna, an inmate executed in 1989 whom Pickett was convinced was innocent.

In fact, it was the 2006 investigation of two Chicago Tribune reporters into deLuna’s case that led James and Gilbert to Pickett in the first place. In addition to a healthy reminder of the importance of good investigative journalism, the Tribune story helped to flesh out the details of the case, pointing out that another man, Carlos Hernandez, was likely the murderer. The reporters work with deLuna’s sister, Rose Rhoton, to investigate the case further, and Pickett quickly becomes an important ally in seeking to get deLuna’s verdict overturned and in putting an end to the death penalty.  And while Rhoton becomes a powerful force in her own right, the film’s primary story belongs to Pickett, and despite his reluctance and privacy, we get a clear sense of how his experiences have shaped him, leading to his decision to stop presiding over executions.  This reluctance is illustrated in a powerful scene at the family dining table, in which Pickett’s four children all express surprise when they discovered their father’s opposition to the death penalty.

As I watched At the Death House Door, I couldn’t hep but think about other films that have presented powerful arguments about the death penalty–Errol Morris’s The Thin Blue Line and Jessica Sanders’ After Innocence among them–and like both of those films, Death House makes us acutely aware of the irreversibility of the death penalty.  In addition, like The Thin Blue Line, Death House takes place in Texas, and Pickett reminds us in a couple of places of the “Wild West” mentality that seems to inform the use of the death penalty in that state.  We are even given a brief flashback to then-governor George W. Bush’s decision to proceed with the execution of Karla Faye Tucker.  But the film generally avoids any easy pandering to anti-Bush sentiment, choosing instead a more somber approach to the death penalty issue, viewing it through Pickett’s thoughtful and reflective eyes.  At the Death House Door is a powerful indictment of the death penalty, one that introduces us to the emotional transformation of Pickett without cheap sentimentality.


  1. Pat Aufderheide Said,

    April 8, 2008 @ 12:09 pm

    I’m so glad you commented on this film! I saw this at SXSW, and it’s the only festival film I’ve ever seen that got TWO standing ovations. Admittedly, it was Texas. But I also like to think that it’s because the film so expertly draws us into the human drama of Carroll Pickett’s struggle with his conscience. You’re right, it’s never preachy, there are no cheap shots. It’s about the terrible consequences of a policy that Carroll Pickett and others believe is deeply immoral even if legal. Pickett himself was at the screening; he spoke movingly about having taken a long time to “learn” and quietly recommended that others not wait so long. I think this film is an excellent example of a kind of filmmaking that the makers–longtime members of the Kartemquin film production company in Chicago–are good at. Kartemquin features an approach that is deeply respectful of both subject and audience, responds to the human complexity of a situation, and is grounded in the moral consequences of social injustice. From their earliest work, about old age homes, through its years as a feminist film collective, to its well-honed broadcast work like New Americans, these are the common threads. By the way some of their earliest work has just been released on DVD, especially their first Home for Life, and including some of their early labor films, Taylor Chain I and II and The Last Pullman Car.

  2. Chuck Said,

    April 8, 2008 @ 12:39 pm

    Pickett and his wife were at our screening, too, as were Peter Gilbert and Steve James, and when Pickett spoke, I certainly found myself impressed with Pickett’s moral conscience, his struggles to wrap his head around the death penalty issue. The Q&A featuring the four of them was, without doubt, one of the highlights of the festival for me.

    I’ve always loved Hoop Dreams, so I was excited to see what Gilbert and James would do with this issue, and it’s definitely an accomplished, reflective film. The Kartemquin films look great. Hopefully I can spend more time with their films soon.

  3. Dudley Sharp Said,

    May 22, 2008 @ 3:27 pm

    Can Rev. Carroll Pickett be trusted?
    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters, contact info below

    Rev. Pickett is on a promotional tour for the film “At the Death House Door”, a film partially about the Reverend’s experience ministering to 95 death row inmates executed in Texas.

    Rev. Pickett’s inaccuracies are many and important.

    Does Rev. Pickett just make facts up as he goes along, hoping that no one fact checks or is he just confused or ignorant?

    Some of his miscues are common anti death penalty deceptions and the Reverend is an anti death penalty activist.

    Below are comments or paraphrases of Rev. Pickett, taken from interviews, followed by my Reply:.

    Pickett: “A great majority of them (the 95 executed inmates he ministered to) were black or Hispanic.” (1)

    Reply: The “great majority” were 47 white (49%) with 32 black (34%), and 16 Hispanic (17%).

    Pickett: “Out of the 95 we executed only one that had a college degree. All the rest of them their education was 9th grade and under.” (1)

    Reply: Not even close. In a review of only 31 of the 95 cases, 5 had some college or post graduate classes and 16 were high school graduates or completed their GED. Partial review (Incomplete Count) , below.

    Would Rev. Pickett tell us about the educational achievements of all the innocent murder victims and those that weren’t old enough for school?

    Pickett: spoke of the Soldier of Fortune murder for hire case, stating the husband got death, while the hired murderer got 6 years. (1)

    Reply: In this well known case. John Wayne Hearn, the hitman, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Sandra Black.

    Pickett: speaks of how sincere hostage taker, murderer Ignacio Cuevas was. Rev. Pickett states that “between 11 and midnight (I) believe almost everything” the inmates say, because they are about to be executed. (1)

    Reply: Bad judgement. Cuevas lied when on the gurney, stating that he was innocent. This goes to show how Rev. Pickett and many others are easily fooled by these murderers.

    Pickett: I knew (executed inmate) Carlos (De Luna) didn’t do it. It was his big brown eyes, the way he talked, he was the same age as my son (transference). I felt so sympathetic towards him. I was so 100% certain that he couldn’t have committed this crime. (Carlos) was a super person to minister to. I knew Carlos was not guilty. Fred Allen a guard, said “by the way he talks and acts I don’t believe he is guilty, either. (1)

    REPLY: Experienced prison personnel are fooled all the time by prisoners, just as parole boards are. This is simply Rev. Pickett’s and Fred Allen’s blind speculation. It means absolutely nothing.

    Pickett: believes that, no way, could someone, so afraid of lightning and thunder, such as Carlos De Luna, use a knife (in a crime). (1)

    Reply: Rev. Pickett talks about how important his background is in understanding people and behavior and he says something like this, destroying his own credibility on the issue. If the lightning and thunder event occurred, we already know what De Luna was capable of. In 1980, “De Luna was charged with attempted aggravated rape and driving a stolen vehicle, he pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 2 to 3 years. Paroled in May 1982, De Luna returned to Corpus Christi. Not long after, he attended a party for a former cellmate and was accused of attacking the cellmate’s 53-year-old mother. She told police that De Luna broke three of her ribs with one punch, removed her underwear, pulled down his pants, then suddenly left. He was never prosecuted for the attack, but authorities sent him back to prison on a parole violation. Released again in December of that year, he came back to Corpus Christi and got a job as a concrete worker. Almost immediately, he was arrested for public intoxication. During the arrest, De Luna allegedly laughed about the wounding of a police officer months earlier and said the officer should have been killed. Two weeks after that arrest, Lopez was murdered.” (Chicago Tribune) Being a long time criminal, we can presume that there were numerous additional crimes committed by De Luna and which remained unsolved. Was De Luna capable of committing a robbery murder, even though he had big brown eyes and was scared of lightning? Of course. This goes to Pickett’s poor judgement or something else.

    And there is this major problem.

    In 1999, after Rev. Pickett had left his death row ministry, he was asked, “Do you think there have been some you have watched die who were strictly innocent?”

    His reply: “I never felt that.” (3)

    PIckett: “In my opinion and in the opinion of the convicts, life in prison, with no hope of parole, is a much worse punishment (than the death penalty).” “Most of these people (death row inmates) fear life in prison more than they do the possibility of execution.” (2)

    REPLY: That may be Rev. Pickett’s opinion, but we know that isn’t the opinion of those facing a possible death sentence of those residing on death row. This gives more support to my suspicion that Rev. Pickett is putting words into the inmates’ mouths. His assertion is totally contradicted by the facts.

    Facts: What percentage of capital murderers seek a plea bargain to a death sentence? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment. What percentage of convicted capital murderers argue for execution in the penalty phase of their capital trial? Zero or close to it. They prefer long term imprisonment. What percentage of death row inmates waive their appeals and speed up the execution process? Nearly zero. They prefer long term imprisonment. This is not, even remotely, in dispute. How could Rev. Pickett not be aware of this? How long was he ministering to Texas’ death row? 13 years?

    Pickett: stated that “doctors can’t (check the veins of inmates pending execution), it’s against the law.” (1)

    Reply: Ridiculous.

    Pickett: Pavulon (a paralytic) has been banned by vets but we use it on people. (1)

    REPLY: This is untrue and is a common anti death penalty deception. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA): “When used alone, these drugs (paralytics) all cause respiratory arrest before loss of consciousness, so the animal may perceive pain and distress after it is immobilized.” Obviously, paralytics are never used alone in the human lethal injection process or animal euthanasia. The AVMA does not mention the specific paralytic – Pavulon – used in lethal injection for humans. These absurd claims, falsely attributed to veterinary literature, have been a bald faced lie by anti death penalty activists.

    In Belgium and the Netherlands, their euthanasia protocol is as follows: A coma is first induced by intravenous administration of 20 mg/kg sodium thiopental (Nesdonal) (NOTE-the first drug in human lethal injection) in a small volume (10 ml physiological saline). Then a triple intravenous dose of a non-depolarizing neuromuscular muscle relaxant is given, such as 20 mg pancuronium bromide (Pavulon) (NOTE-the second drug, the paralytic, in human lethal injection) or 20 mg vecuronium bromide (Norcuron). The muscle relaxant should preferably be given intravenously, in order to ensure optimal availability. Only for pancuronium bromide (Pavulon) are there substantial indications that the agent may also be given intramuscularly in a dosage of 40 mg.

    Just like execution/lethal injection in the US, although we give a third drug which speeds up death.

    Pickett: “Most of the inmates would ask the question, “How can Texas kill people who kill people and tell people that killing people is wrong?” That came out of inmates’ mouths regularly and I think it’s a pretty good question to ask.” (2)

    REPLY: Most? Would that be more than 48 out of 95? I simply don’t believe it. 10 out of 95? Doubtful. I suspect it is no coincidence that “Why do we kill people to show that killing is wrong” has been a common anti death penalty slogan for a very long time. I suspect that Rev. Pickett has just picked it up, used it and placed it in inmate’s mouths. Furthermore, we don’t execute murderers to show that murder is wrong. Most folks know that murder is wrong even without a sanction. The murder is wrong and there are various sanctions for committing that wrong, including execution.

    Pickett: said an inmate said “its burning” “its burning”, during an execution. (1)

    REPLY: This may have occurred for a variety of reasons and does not appear to be an issue. It is the third drug which is noted for a burning sensation, if one were conscious during its injection. However, none of the inmates that Rev. Pickett handled were conscious after the first drug was administered. That would not be the case, here, as the burning complaints came at the very beginning of the injection process, which would involve a reaction where the burning would be quite minor. Has Rev. Pickett reviewed the pain and suffering of the real victims – the innocent murdered ones?

    Incomplete count
    this is a review of 31 out of the 95 death row inmates ministered by Rev. Pickett

    21 of the 31 below had some college or post graduate classes (5)
    or were high school graduates or completed their GED (16)
    1) Brooks 12
    3) O’Bryan post graduate degree – dentist
    41 james russel 10th
    42 G Green sophomore college
    45 David Clark 10th and GED
    46 Edward Ellis 10th
    47 Billy White 10th
    48 Justin May 11th
    49 Jesus Romero 11th and GED
    50 Robert Black, Jr. a pilot (probably beyond 12th)
    55. Carlos Santana 11th
    57 Darryl Stewart 12th
    58 Leonel Herrera 11th and GED
    60) Markum Duff Smith Post graduate College
    33) Carlos De Luna 9th
    95 Ronald Keith Allridge 10th and GED
    93 Noble Mays Junior in College
    92 Samuel Hawkins 12th
    91 Billy Conn Gardner 12th
    90 Jeffery Dean Motley 9th
    89 Willie Ray Williams 11th
    86 Jesse Jacobs 12th
    85 Raymond Carl Kinnamon 11th and GED
    84 Herman Clark sophomore college
    83 Warren Eugene Bridge 11th
    82 Walter Key Williams 12th
    72 Harold Barnard 12th
    73 Freddie Webb 11th and GED
    75 Larry Anderson 12th
    77 Stephen Nethery 12th
    79 Robert Drew 10th

    Dudley Sharp, Justice Matters
    e-mail, 713-622-5491,
    Houston, Texas

    Mr. Sharp has appeared on ABC, BBC, CBS, CNN, C-SPAN, FOX, NBC, NPR, PBS , VOA and many other TV and radio networks, on such programs as Nightline, The News Hour with Jim Lehrer, The O’Reilly Factor, etc., has been quoted in newspapers throughout the world and is a published author.

    A former opponent of capital punishment, he has written and granted interviews about, testified on and debated the subject of the death penalty, extensively and internationally.

    Pro death penalty sites


    www(dot) (Sweden)

    1) “Chaplain Discusses ‘Death House’ Ministry”, Interview, Legal Affairs, FRESH AIR, NPR, May 19, 2007.


    3) “The Execution: Interview with Reverend Carroll Pickett”, PBS, FRONTLINE, 1999

  4. Chuck Said,

    May 22, 2008 @ 4:00 pm

    No matter the details, all of the people who were executed were human. Executing human beings is wrong. Period. You’ve said yourself that murder is wrong. Isn’t execution essentially state-sanctioned murder?

    With regards to the ethnicity and/or race of the victim, even if the phrase “great majority” does not precisely apply in the terms you define it, certainly a disproportionate number of the people who were executed were African-American or Latino. The same is generally true for the education level of a disproportionate number of the inmates who were executed white Pickett was a minister to death row.

    No matter what, the excessive length of this comment and the fact that you’ve left the identical comment elsewhere, not to mention the fact that you enclose your biography, violate the spirit of blog commenting. If you want to engage with what I’ve written, feel free. If you want to criticize Pickett or the film, there is plenty of blog software that you can use to write your own blog review of what I regard as a wonderful and important documentary. Otherwise I’ll regard future comments as spam.

  5. RHR Said,

    May 23, 2008 @ 12:04 am

    Robert Black did hire a hitman out of SOF Mag. Rober took his only son hunting. That’s when the murder took place. Robert sent his son (Gary) inside to find his mother. Gary grew up and got married- had two kids.
    His wife divorced him in 1998. I am now married to Gary’s EX-Wife, and I’m the step-father to his two children. Gary and I are good friends.
    The actual murderer (JOHN WAYNE HEARN) got LIFE W/O Parole for confession and testifying against Robert Black.
    DUDLEY SHARP does have this right.

  6. The Chutry Experiment » Documentary Reminder Said,

    May 29, 2008 @ 9:38 pm

    […] I double-checked and realized that it was having its television premiere on IFC tonight.  I really can’t recommend this documentary enough, so if you have IFC, TiVo it or catch it later this month when they rebroadcast it.  I had the […]

  7. Dudley Sharp Said,

    August 12, 2008 @ 7:38 pm

    Chuck, I am sorry you feel that way. I think that truth and accuracy trunp your concerns. But it is your blog.

    Thedeath penalty is no more state sanctioned murder than incarceration is state sanctioned kidnapping or fines are state sanctioned robbery.

    There is a significant moral difference between crime and punishment, innocent vicitm and guilty murderer.

    I suspect you are thinking of populations counts. You need to concentrate on capital murders, instead. There is no disproportionality, if you look at the actual crimes committed.

    Pickett’s comment was factually false. Is that OK with you?

  8. Chuck Said,

    August 12, 2008 @ 11:46 pm

    Truth and accuracy is important. I’m not a death penalty activist, so I haven’t done the same research that you obviously have. I would point out that many of the facts you cited above only marginally refute (if at all) Pickett’s basic arguments (including the distinction between how you define education levels of death row inmates and how you determine racial/ethnic composition of death row inmates).

    In terms of the distinction between the percentage of the population and the percentage of those on death row who are black or Latino, the fact is that blacks and Latinos are more likely to receive inadequate representation, making them more likely to get tougher sentences.

    There is obviously a difference between crime and punishment, but that doesn’t sanction the use of capital punishment. Because the death penalty is irreversible (and because I think it’s wrong in the first place), I don’t think it should be inflicted. I don’t think we’re going to change each other’s minds on this issue, but feel free to comment further if you like.

  9. Dudley Sharp Said,

    November 2, 2008 @ 3:59 pm

    Chuck, those are the known educational accomplishments and the race/ethnicities of the death row inmates executed that were accompanied by Pickett. He was blatantly way way off reality with his claims on education and he was obviously off with his racial claims.

    I suspect he just made it up for effect or he is very confused, either way, it should affect how anyone perceives his credibility, particualrly when considered with all of the other problems.

    Chuck, prove, with evidence, that blacks and latinos are “are more likely to receive inadequate representation, making them more likely to get tougher sentences.”

    My email is

    I will review your proof.

    Chuck, you were the one who said murder was and execution were essentially the same, not me.

    They are not remotely the same, unless you think the rape and murder of little girls is essentially the same as the execution of that rapist murderer.

    Do you?

  10. Dudley Sharp Said,

    November 2, 2008 @ 4:02 pm

    Innocents are more at risk when we fail to execute murderers.

    The death penalty provides, enahnced deterrence, enganced incapacitiation and enhanced due process, thusly protecting innocents more for each of those.

  11. The Chutry Experiment » Media Favorites 2008 Said,

    January 3, 2009 @ 1:52 pm

    […] films that continue to stick with me in a variety of ways: Peter Gilbert and Steve James’ At the Death House Door, the story of Carroll Pickett, a former death row chaplain turned anti-death penalty activist; […]

  12. Robert Barnard Said,

    May 9, 2009 @ 11:51 pm

    72 harold barnard was my father, and dispite his troubled past up till i was 7 years old in 1980 he was a good father. i remember the day it all happened june 6, 1980. i was sitting at his mother’s house waiting for him to pick me up to take me to astro world in houston, tx. he never showed, my heart and hopes were smashed. i want people to remember that not just the people being executed are being punished, i’ve lived my life all these years with “what does your father do?” “where does your father live?” and “why is your father not here?” i’ve lived with the shame of having his name thrown in my face during a custody battle over my own son…… implying that i was the seed of a monster in a court of law when i’d never even lefted a finger against another human being in my life. the execution of an idividual has greater consiquences than just the execution of the individual. for people like me whom were never notified of the execution to having to grow up with the shame from 7 yrs old there is no help or comfort. that said, i do believe that what my father did deserved the death penalty. i had to grow up without a father in my life and live with the shame of what he did. another family had to live the rest of theirs without their son whom they raised for 16 yrs and never got to see what he may have become. their are no winners, only losers in the whole ordeal. many lives have been touched by the actions of the executed individuals………. the only hope we have for the death penalty is that it brings closure to the victims families and through more publicity discorage future offenders from commiting such actions.
    the death penalty can be argued by many people who don’t have any emotional connection to the victim or the condemned…… that’s easy ….. ya’ll just pick a side to be on and argue about it. try being in the middle of it…… try living with it.

  13. Robert Barnard Said,

    May 9, 2009 @ 11:59 pm

    oh and by the way, my father and myself are white……… so racism??? in executions?? no, the culture of black society has promoted more violent criminals……. i bet if you notice the population of blacks in prison greatly resimbles the number of blacks executed……. also resembling the crime rate in “black and latino” society. it’s not the law’s fault that one culture or race decides more often to disregaurd the laws of a given society. the crime rate among white offenders, black offenders, latino’s etc…….. greatly resembles the rate of that in which it occurs on the “streets” of our society. untill blacks and latinos as a group decide to instill better values in their society then the levels that you guys are arguing about will continue…… and hey, ya’ll will allways have something to argue about.

  14. Robert Barnard Said,

    May 10, 2009 @ 12:20 am

    bottom line blacks and latinos are far more likely to committ a violent crime…… thus far more likely to be executed……. it only makes sense. i’m not racist by no means, but these are the hard cold facts. as a society in general the value system needs to be adopted to adjust to the “laws of the land” so to speak for there to be an argument about executions being “race” related. i will remind you that my father was white and sentenced to death for murdering a minority. and he did deserve to die for it in my opinion. i don’t look at the race rather than the action of the guilty party and the devistation to the victims family that they caused. there is no one on tv or in these forums i’d beg to argue who have ever lost a love one do to the actions of the offenders being executed or the families of the person being executed on here. so where do your “expert opinions” about executions come from. they are based on opinion. heck if you did that with race, you probly could say that its an age thing. you could look at the age of the people being executed and say that older men are executed more than younger men…….. or visa versa.

  15. Robert Barnard Said,

    May 10, 2009 @ 12:23 am

    you could argue its a sexist thing too. men are far more likely to be executed for something far less hanus than a woman drowning her own children.

  16. Robert Barnard Said,

    May 10, 2009 @ 12:36 am

    you could argue that a person could walk up to me and shoot me in the head for no reason at all, and in the same token on the same day a seperate individual could for no reason at all walk up to a civil servant and shoot him in the head for no reason at all. one will get the death penalty and one would get life in prison. when did the life of a civil servant become more important than the life of an ordinary man? in the bible are we not all “created equally”? no matter or race, nationality, religion or “occupation”? when did a victims occupations make it manditory for the execution of the offender. why will my killer get 3 hots and a cot for 50 years, and my neighbor’s killer get lethal injection just because he wears a badge to work…….. i have a badge for work….. its issued by my company so i can get into the plants that i work at……oh wait my badge isn’t as shiny as the other guys i guess. you wanna argue something …….. argue something that is backed up by the facts to support your case….. because arguing that blacks and latino’s are far more likely to be executed is not backed by the fact that in black and latino society they are far more likely to committ an offense which entitles them to a death sentense.

  17. Chuck Said,

    May 10, 2009 @ 7:54 am

    You may be right about the likelihood of committing a crime, but blacks and Latinos are also more likely to get inadequate representation or to be wrongfully convicted.

    In general, the race issue matters less to me than the fact that the death penalty itself is wrong.

  18. Dudley Sharp Said,

    May 14, 2009 @ 3:38 am


    I am terribly sorry for the suffering that you have gone through because of the horrible things that your father chose to do.

  19. A Look at the Numbers Said,

    May 31, 2009 @ 1:59 am

    Mr. Bernard,

    This statement: “bottom line blacks and latinos are far more likely to committ a violent crime…… thus far more likely to be executed……. it only makes sense” is only partially true.

    It is true that members of disenfranchised racial groups such as Black Americans and Latino Americans are more likely to be both defendants and victims of violent crime such as homicide than are White Americans.

    However, these differential rates of homicide offending do NOT explain the vast disparities in death sentencing for interracial homicides between Black and White Americans.

    Given that most homicide is intraracial (White on White; Black on Black), we should expect that executions would characteristically match the nature of homicide in the US for these years:

    Homicide Type by Race, 1976-2005
    Although slightly less true now than before, most murders are intraracial.

    From 1976 to 2005 —
    * 86% of white victims were killed by whites
    * 94% of black victims were killed by blacks

    However, executions do NOT at all match these numbers. Both Whites and Blacks who kill whites have a statistically significant increased chance of being executed, but this is significantly more pronounced for Black Americans who kill White Americans. The numbers below indicate the rate at which Blacks are more likely to be sentenced to death for killing Whites than Whites in the post-Furman era:

    GA: 10
    FL: 8
    IL: 6
    PA: 3.9
    NC: 3.5
    MD: 2.5
    TX: 5

    These numbers come from:

    US General Accounting Office (1990)–a report that looked at nearly 16000 executions from 1608-2000 to find that only 30 or 31 executions included White people who had killed Black victims. Which, if you’re wondering is roughly .0019375 of a percentage point. This does not at all match our historical records for homicide.

    Baldus, David C., Charles A. Pulaski, and George Woodworth. Equal Justice and the Death Penalty: A Legal and Empirical Analysis. Page 1. UPNE, 1990. Google Scholar. 9 Apr 2009

    Baldus, David C., and George Woodworth. 2003. “Race Discrimination in the Administration of the Death Penalty: An Overview of the Empirical Evidence with Special Emphasis on the Post-1990 Research.” 39 CRIMINAL LAW BULLETIN 194-226. (for which I apologize is not freely available online, but can be found here:

    Further, among Black Americans, those who look more “stereotypically Black” and have darker features are more likely to be sentenced to death.

    How is this at all related to the nature of the crimes in which they have committed?

    ABSTRACT—Researchers previously have investigated the role of race in capital sentencing, and in particular, whether the race of the defendant or victim influences the
    likelihood of a death sentence. In the present study, we examined whether the likelihood of being sentenced to death is influenced by the degree to which a Black defendant
    is perceived to have a stereotypically Black appearance. Controlling for a wide array of factors, we found that in cases involving a White victim, the more stereotypically Black a defendant is perceived to be, the more likely that person is to be sentenced to death.

    Eberhardt, J. L., Davies, P. G., Purdie-Vaughns, V. J., & Johnson, S. L. (2006). Looking deathworthy: Perceived stereotypicality of Black defendants predicts capital-sentencing outcomes. Cornell Law School research paper No. 06-012 (which is a peer-reviewed publication that can be downloaded for free from:

    In addition, it is widely documented in the peer reviewed scholarly research the practice of racial discrimination in prosecutorial discretion; jury bleaching (striking Black jurors who make it more difficult for prosecutors to have all-White juries that are more likely to sentence Black Americans to death, particularly in cases with White victims); and jury mistakes and racial bias.

    Applegate, B. (2006). The Myth that the Death Penalty is Administered Fairly In R. Bohm, & J. T. Walker (Eds.), Demystifying Crime and Criminal Justice (pp.158-166). Los Angeles: Roxbury.

    Bright, S. B. (2006). Discrimination, Death and Denial: The Tolerance of Racial Discrimination in Infliction of the Death Penalty. In C. J. Ogletree, & A. Sarat (Eds.), From lynch mobs to the killing state: Race and the death penalty in America (pp. 211-259). New York: New York University Press.

    And others although these are a bit dated for more recent data:

    Clearly there are extralegal factors (including racial discrimination at all levels within the system) that account for these disparities that cannot be explained fully by the various factors related to the nature of homicide in the US.

  20. A Look at the Numbers Said,

    May 31, 2009 @ 2:01 am

    Mr. Barnard, I apologize. I realized I misspelled your name in my first post.

  21. A Look at the Numbers Said,

    May 31, 2009 @ 2:20 am

    Also, at least in my knowledge of the first 300 or so people executed in Texas, only 4-5 had finished (or nearly finished) college. Two examples:

    Ron Shamburger

    Johnny Pyles

    For the first 300 or so people executed in Texas, here are the years of education completed by each according to TDCJ’s website: (the m’s are missing from TDCJ’s website).

    The average number of years completed for the condemned below is 10.63, or a bit beyond a Sophomore level.

    As you can see, not a lot of educated folks here, as Charlie Pickett explains correctly.

    12, 12, 9, 12, 15, 12, 10, 10, 8, 9, 12, 9, 10, 10, 9, 8, 12, 9, 11, 9, 8, 7, 11, 11, 15, m, 9, m, 16, 10, 9, 10, 9, 10, 8, 12, 9, 14, 11, 14, 12, 11, 11, 11, 7, 11, 12, 10, 9, 13, 10, 7, 12, 8, 9, 11, 10, 16, 8, 9, 7, 10, 14, 11, 8, 8, 10, 7, 11, 10, 10, 9, 14, 12, 10, 10, 12, 12, 11, 12, 10, 12, 9, 7, 12, 9, 12, 10, 9, m,
    9, 12, 14, 11, 11, 12, 8, 14, 11, 11, 11, 10, 11, 8, 10, 12, 13, 11, 12.5, 11, 7, 11, 15, 13, 8, 11, 9, m, 7, 8, 14, 7, 11, m, 12, 7, 9, 12, m, 11, 10, 10, 9, 11,
    10, 12, 10, 8, 14, 11, 12, 6, 3, 12, 12, 12, 8, 15, 9, 8, 9, 9, 10, 13, 9, 16, 12, 10, 10, 10, m, m, 10, m, 7, 11, 10, 13, 11, 11, 12, 8, 11, 9, 12, 11, 8, 8, 5, 11,
    8, 14, 11, m, 11, 10, 12, 12, 10, 9, 12, 7, 8, 9, 7, 10, 9, 10, 9, 14, 8, 12, 11, 12, 10, 7, 9, 7, 11, 9, 8, 10, 9, 8, 10, 8, 15, 12, 12, 9, 11, 7, 6, 12, 11, 14, 1, 12, 16, 8, 10, 12, 12, 9, 12, 5, 11, 12, 7, 9, 9, 9, 10, 9, 11, 13, 13, 9, 8, 14, 12, 11, 12, 7, 11, 9, m, 9, m, m, 11, 11, 10, 10, 10, 7, m, 14, 10, m, m, 10, 8,
    14, 6, 9, 9, 12, 7, 11, 11, 6, 12

    Note: Entry was reformatted so that it would take up less space, but the content itself was not altered

  22. Dudley Sharp Said,

    May 5, 2010 @ 7:35 am

    Pickett was dead wrong on the numbers, as I detailed.

    Reagrding race and the death penalty, it is not at all suprising that white vicitm cases are the vast majority of death row cases, as white vicitms are the predominant victims in capital murders.

    “Death Penalty Sentencing: No Systemic Bias”

  23. Dudley Sharp Said,

    May 5, 2010 @ 7:46 am

    The Cornell study confirmed” that a white murderer sentenced to death was twice as likely actually to be executed than a black person sentenced to death.”

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