14% of Death Row Inmates Are There Because of Just 5 Prosecutors

Report argues overzealous DAs are making the death penalty arbitrary
By Michael Harthorne,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 1, 2016 6:02 PM CDT
14% of Death Row Inmates Are There Because of Just 5 Prosecutors
A prisoner on death row stands in his cell last year in Georgie. A new report finds that just five prosecutors are responsible for 440 people on death row.   (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Just five prosecutors representing less than 0.2% of US counties are responsible for 14% of all people currently on death row and 5% of people sentenced to death in the past 40 years. That's according to a recently released report from Harvard Law School's Fair Punishment Project. The report—subtitled "How overzealous personalities drive the death penalty"—found the death penalty was more about prosecutors cultivating an "over-aggressive" and "reckless" style than the actual crimes, the Huffington Post reports. And, according to the Guardian, that leads to a "highly arbitrary" use of the death penalty. The five prosecutors, who have sentenced a total of 440 people to death, are Joe Britt in North Carolina, Bob Macy in Oklahoma, Lynne Abraham in Pennsylvania, Johnny Holmes in Texas, and Donnie Myers in South Carolina. Only Myers is still serving as a prosecutor.

All five prosecutors seem to relish securing the death penalty. Myer has an electric chair paperweight. Macy, who got a 16-year-old sentenced to death, saw it as his "patriotic duty." Abraham says she's never doubted one of her death sentences, despite two of them later being exonerated. And that leads to another problem: the "illegal or unethical behavior" that seems to go hand-in-hand with a passion for the death penalty. Misconduct was found in a third of Macy's 54 death sentences, and three of them were exonerated. Britt was found to have committed misconduct in more than a third of his 38 death sentences and had two developmentally disabled teens exonerated. Myers was found to have a 46% misconduct rate, often for excluding jurors on the basis of race. He once referred to a black defendant as "King Kong" and a "beast of burden." Read the full report here. (More death penalty stories.)

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