Hannity, Elder omitted key stats when rejecting claim that race factors in capital punishment cases

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

During a discussion of Stanley "Tookie" Williams's then-impending execution and whether race is a factor in how the death penalty is applied for murder, Fox News host Sean Hannity and guest Larry Elder noted that eight out of 12 people who had been executed in California since the state reinstated capital punishment were whites. They offered this figure to rebut suggestions that race is a factor in how the death penalty is applied for murder, but they left out far more significant figures. A study published in the Santa Clara Law Review shows that those who kill whites are far more likely to get the death penalty than those who kill either blacks or Hispanics.

On the December 12 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, during a discussion of Stanley "Tookie" Williams's then-impending execution, co-host Sean Hannity and guest Larry Elder, a conservative radio host, noted that eight out of 12 people who had been executed in California since the state reinstated capital punishment were whites. They offered this figure to rebut suggestions that race is a factor in how the death penalty is applied for murder, but they left out far more significant figures. A study published in the Santa Clara Law Review shows that race is a significant factor in determining who receives a punishment of death: Those who kill whites are far more likely to get the death penalty than those who kill either African-Americans or Hispanics.

The study, published in the December 2005 Santa Clara Law Review by Glenn Pierce of the Institute for Race and Justice at Northeastern University and sociology professor Michael Radelet of the University of Colorado-Boulder, "examines the racial, ethnic, and geographical variations present in the imposition of the death penalty in California." Pierce and Radelet found that convicted murderers in California were far more likely to receive the death penalty if their victim or victims were "non-Hispanic whites" (hereafter referred to as "white") than if their victim or victims were "non-Hispanic African-American" (hereafter referred to as "African-American") or Hispanic.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, California executed 11 convicted murderers prior to Williams. Pierce and Radelet's study found that "[d]espite the California Health Department data indicating that just 27.6% of the murder victims in the state are white, 82% of those executed were put to death for killing whites." This statistic led the researchers to investigate the role that a murder victim's race plays in the application of the death penalty in California. "To examine the possible relationship between racial and ethnic traits and the imposition of the death penalty in California," Pierce and Radelet "examined the characteristics of all those sentenced to death in the state before March 15, 2003, for homicides that occurred between January 1, 1990, and December 31, 1999." The researchers found that regardless of the scenarios tested, defendants were more likely to be sentenced to death if their victims were white and that "blacks who kill whites are more likely to be sentenced to death than whites who kill whites." Pierce and Radelet concluded:

The data clearly indicate that the race and ethnicity of homicide victims is associated with the imposition of the death penalty. Overall, controlling for all other predictor variables, those who kill non-Hispanic African Americans are 59.3% less likely to be sentenced to death than those who kill non-Hispanic whites. This disparity increases to 67% when comparing the death sentencing rates of those who kill whites with those who kill Hispanics. The differences are especially remarkable in cases where there was only one victim and where the homicide did not include additional felonies. In these cases, those who kill non-Hispanic whites are 7.6 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who kill non-Hispanic African Americans, and 11 times more likely to be sentenced to death than those who kill Hispanics. Where one of the two identified aggravating circumstances (additional felony committed or multiple victims) above is present, those who kill non-Hispanic whites are still 2.28 times more likely to be sentenced to death than other homicide offenders.

According to Pierce and Radelet's study, similar research in at least six other states yielded comparable results.

Independent of the race of victims in capital cases, some evidence indicates the race of the assailant may also play a factor. Pierce and Radelet reported that "racial makeup of California's death row in July 2005 was 36% African-American," while African-Americans make up 6.7 percent of California's population.

From a discussion of the case with Hannity, Elder, co-host Alan Colmes, and former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown on the December 12 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes:

COLMES: Larry Elder, should "Thou shalt not kill" apply to the state?

ELDER: No, it shouldn't apply to the state.

COLMES: Why not?

ELDER: It is "Thou shalt not murder." This is a legal execution of somebody who committed four murders for which he was convicted. You know, I have an appreciation for somebody like Mayor Brown. He's being consistent. He's not being hypocritical. The same can't be said, for example, for organizations like the NAACP [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], Alan.

On their website, they oppose the death penalty. Yet, in 2000, they cut a commercial attacking George Bush for not supporting more hate crime legislation, so that those who murdered James Byrd would have been sentenced more severely. Two of them got death penalty, one got life. So the NAACP had no problem with the death penalty for racist white guys, but apparently they have a problem for the death penalty for a black guy who killed four non-blacks. I've got a problem with that.

HANNITY: Hey, Larry, how big of an issue is -- and I had Leo Terrell on my radio show earlier today, and the issue of race came up during the debate --

ELDER: My condolences.

[laughter]

HANNITY: Well, Leo's a good guy, but he's just wrong on a lot of issues. But race came up in the form -- in the discussion, but since they've reinstated the death penalty in California, the overwhelming majority, eight of the 12, have been white, isn't that correct?

ELDER: That's right.

HANNITY: And only one African-American.

ELDER: And Tookie will be the second person, second black person in California to be executed since they reinstated the death penalty. And there are more whites on death row than blacks, both in the state and nationwide.

HANNITY: Yes, but, Larry, one other question, because there are those in Hollywood that said, "Well, maybe he should get the Nobel Prize for the work that he has done by writing these children's books." But I actually looked at his record. Since he has been in prison, he's been associated with gang activity. He's been associated with violence and fighting in prison, throwing chemicals in the faces of guards that are there --

ELDER: Right.

HANNITY: -- planning escapes and all of this sort of thing. Why would one come to the conclusion he deserves a Nobel Prize, based on that action, or that he's changed his heart?

ELDER: Yeah, because they don't know any of the stuff that you just now know, Sean. You can go online and look at the report filed by the L.A. County D.A. [district attorney], Steve Cooley. He details all the things you're talking about, 10 years worth of fighting with prison inmates, fighting with guards, for a man who supposedly has redeemed himself. They don't know. Jesse Jackson publicly stated he got convicted by an all-white jury.

HANNITY: That's not true.

ELDER: It wasn't an all-white jury. There was a black man on the jury. They don't know. They don't care.

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