Too Late for Luck: A Comparison of Factually Innocent Defendants: Executions and Exonerations in the Post-Furman Era

Talia Roitberg Harmon, Niagara University
William S. Lofquist, SUNY College at Geneseo

This study will analyze sixteen executions nationwide from 1972-2000 that involved compelling claims of factual innocence and a comparison group of eighty cases in which prisoners were released from death rows because of "doubts about their guilt" from the same time period.

This paper will consist of a two pronged analysis. The first section will consist of a qualitative matching of several pairs of cases that ended in either exoneration or an execution. These cases will be matched based upon state and year of conviction. Narratives describing the cases will be presented and significant differences between the pairs of cases will be identified. The second section will consist of a systematic examination of the pivotal factors that may lead to an overturned conviction and subsequent release from death row as opposed to an execution among factually innocent defendants. We will focus on hypothesis testing relating to factors that may increase the likelihood of a case resulting in a reversal as opposed to an execution.

This comparison will permit a systematic examination of the differences between cases that result in a release from death row and those that result in an execution. By analyzing the significant factors that may affect the outcome of the judicial review process, important insights into the dynamics of this process can be achieved.

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Updated 05/20/2006