Study: Majority of U.S. executions originate in 2% of counties

New report defies arguments that death penalty is handed down in equitable fashion

By Natasha Lennard
October 2, 2013 10:18PM (UTC)
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The death penalty in the U.S. is handed down according to vagaries of just a few harsh counties, a new study finds.

The Death Penalty Information Center in Washington reported this week that of the 1,348 executions that have taken place in the US since the death penalty restarted in 1976, more than half originated in only 2 percent of counties.


Given these statistics, any juridical claims (the very claims that ended a 1972 Supreme Court death penalty ban in the U.S.) that executions are determined in a fair and equitable fashion are laughable.

As The Guardian's Ed Pilkington pointed out, "The finding of such unequal distribution – including the fact that all of the 3,125 inmates currently on death row in America came from just 20 percent of the counties – has potentially significant legal consequences."

The director of the Death Penalty Information Center, Richard Dieter, commented, "It is becoming clear that it comes down simply to which side of the county line you were standing in when you committed a murder that can put you on death row – it's nothing to do with the heinousness of the crime. There are wild disparities between counties."


Via the Guardian:

Even within the state of Texas, which carried out 15 executions last year, the discrepancies are wide.

Just four of its 254 counties – Harris, Dallas, Tarrant and Bexar – account for almost half of the 492 executions Texas has carried out since 1976. Harris county alone, around the city of Houston, has carried out 115 executions, a record number that in no small part can be explained by the particular affinity for judicial killings of its then-district attorney in the 1990s.

Natasha Lennard

Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email

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Capital Punishment Death Penalty Death Penalty Information Center Executions Study Supreme Court Texas