Patterns of Murder in Death Penalty Cases: Not Necessarily What You Think

M. Dwayne Smith, University of South Florida
Beth Bjerregaard, University of North Carolina - Charlotte
Sondra J. Fogel, University of South Florida

An analysis of 503 cases of murder convictions associated with death penalty trials in North Carolina is conducted to determine the general patterns revealed in these cases. Compared to general national patterns of murder, "capital" murders are more likely to have male perpetrators, female victims, and non-Black victims. However, they have similar proportions of non-Black perpetrators as well as victims who were strangers to the perpetrator. Further, the proportion of deaths by gunshot was less than the national figure and the motivational circumstances associated with the murders were relatively broad in scope. The implications of the findings are discussed, especially that the types of murders selected for possible imposition of the death penalty are more diverse than is generally assumed.

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Updated 05/20/2006