An unusual trial is set to begin next week in Connecticut. Seven of 11 men on death row will be brought into a makeshift courtroom at a prison in Somers to challenge the fairness of the death penalty, according to the Associated Press.
The inmates are suing the state, alleging racial and geographic biases in how prosecutors seek the death penalty and seeking to have their death sentences overturned. After seven years of legal wrangling, the trial is scheduled to start on September 3.
The key evidence for the inmates is a study by Stanford University professor John Donahue, a former Yale University professor who reviewed the nearly 4,700 murders in Connecticut from 1973 to 2007. Among those, Donahue said 205 were death penalty-eligible cases that resulted in a homicide conviction, and defendants in 138 of the 205 murders were charged with capital felony, reported the AP.
The end results of those murder prosecutions were 66 capital felony convictions, nine death sentences and the execution of serial killer Michael Ross in 2005.
Donahue said he found that minority defendants who murder white victims are three times as likely to receive a death sentence as white defendants who murder white victims. He also found that minority defendants who commit death penalty-eligible murders of white victims are six times as likely to receive a death sentence as minority defendants who commit death penalty-eligible murders of minority victims.
The study, which was commissioned by the chief public defender's office, also concluded that Connecticut's capital punishment system was arbitrary and includes geographic biases, reported the AP.
Donahue said that although the death penalty is usually reserved for the "worst of the worst" cases, eight of the nine death sentences affirmed between 1973 and 2007 were not among the 15 most egregious cases. He said death penalty-eligible defendants in Waterbury were sentenced to death at much higher rates than such defendants elsewhere in the state.
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