The Race of Defendants and Victims in Pennsylvania Death Penalty Decisions: 2000–2010

Jeffery T. Ulmer, John H. Kramer, Gary Zajac

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


This study uses propensity score weighting to examine three key death penalty decisions in Pennsylvania from 2000–2010, focusing on the role of defendant and victim race: prosecutors’ decisions to seek the death penalty, prosecutors’ decisions to retract death filings, and decisions to sentence defendants to the death penalty. We collected data on 880 first degree murder convictions in 18 Pennsylvania counties, encompassing 87% of the state’s first-degree murder convictions. We do not find that black defendants, or black defendants who kill white victims specifically, are more likely to have the death penalty sought or imposed. Instead, we find that those who kill white victims, regardless of defendant race, are more likely to receive the death penalty. We further found that black defendants, and blacks who killed black victims, were more likely to have a death filing retracted by prosecutors. Finally, patterns of death penalty race disparity varied greatly depending on the county in which a case was prosecuted and sentenced.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)955-983
Number of pages29
JournalJustice Quarterly
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jul 28 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Law


Dive into the research topics of 'The Race of Defendants and Victims in Pennsylvania Death Penalty Decisions: 2000–2010'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this