A new study shows that black defendants in Durham County who are accused of killing white victims are six times more likely to face the death penalty than black defendants whose victims are also black. Attorneys for Keith Kidwell, a black man accused of killing a white man in 2005, surveyed every murder case in Durham County between 2003 and 2007 and found “a stark statistical pattern of racial bias.” The race of the victim had a greater effect on the prosecutor’s decision to seek death in a given case than whether the defendant killed more than one person, or had killed before. Race of victim was the single strongest predictor for whether a case would be declared capital in Durham County.
Nationwide and statewide studies in the past have shown a similar race-of-victim effect, but this is the first known study of the effect of race on charging decisions in a single North Carolina county.
Complete study data is here. Local reporting is here. See also prior reporting on the Racial Justice Act currently before the General Assembly. A hearing in Kidwell’s case is scheduled for this afternoon.