Who gets the death penalty? It mostly depends on who the prosecutor is

By Juan Haines

A small number of prosecutors across the country are vigorously pursuing death sentences and, according to a new study, have done so without regard for fairness and accuracy.

“These prosecutors are evidence that the application of the death penalty is — and always has been — less about the circumstances of the offense or the characteristics of the person who committed the crime, and more a function of the personality and predilections of the local prosecutors entrusted with the power to seek the ultimate punishment,” the study reports.

It is titled Fair Punishment Project: America’s Top Five Deadliest Prosecutors: How Overzealous Personalities Drive The Death Penalty: June 2016.

One example is Joe Freeman Britt, head prosecutor for Robeson County, North Carolina, who obtained 38 death sentences in 14 years.

“Within the breast of each of us burns a flame that constantly whispers in our ear, ‘Preserve life, preserve life, preserve life at any cost,’” Britt once said. “It is the prosecutor’s job to extinguish that flame.”

Misconduct was alleged in almost 82 percent of Britt’s cases, while misconduct was found in about 37 percent of them and two people were exonerated, the study reports.

Britt is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as “the deadliest prosecutor in America.”

Robert J. Macy, aka, “Cowboy” Bob Macy, Oklahoma County, Oklahoma, is responsible for 54 death sentences, “more than the current Death Row populations of Colorado, Indiana, New Mexico, Utah, Virginia, Washington, and Wyoming combined,” Fair Punishment Project reported.

In 21 years as a prosecutor, misconduct was alleged in nearly 95 percent of Macy’s cases. Misconduct was found in 18 of his cases. The courts reversed nearly half his death sentences and three people were exonerated.

After Macy retired, the county has had three death sentences in the past six years.

Federal prosecutor Donald V. Myers, 11th Judicial District, South Carolina, secured 39 death sentences in 38 years.

Misconduct was alleged in nearly 62 percent of his prosecutions. Misconduct was found in more than 45 percent of them.

Under Lynne Abraham, who has been dubbed the “Queen of Death” and “The Deadliest D.A.,” the Philadelphia County District Attorney’s office obtained 108 death sentences, Fair Punishment Project reports. “She described herself as ‘passionate’ about the death penalty. ‘I truly believe it is manifestly correct,’ she said.”

In 19 years, two people were exonerated.

Abraham drew criticism after a reporter once noted 85 percent of the people incarcerated in the city’s jail were African-American. Abraham was asked if she believed 85 percent of the city’s crime was committed by African-Americans. “Yes, I do. I really do,” replied Abraham, the Fair Punishment Project reported.

Under the leadership of Harris County District Attorney Johnny Holmes, 201 people were sentenced to death from 1979 through 2000.

“If you murder someone here, the state of Texas is going to kill you,” Holmes is quoted in the Fair Punishment Project report.

When death sentences obtained under the leadership of Lynne Abraham and Johnny Holmes are included, that total comes to 440.

“If you compare that total to the current number of prisoners on Death Row in the entire country, which was determined to be 2,943 as of Jan. 1, 2016, it is clear that these five prosecutors have had an outsized impact on the death penalty,” Fair Punishment Project reported.

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