Graduation Year

2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Criminology

Major Professor

John K. Cochran, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

M D. Smith, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Wilson R. Palacios, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Lyndsay N. Boggess, Ph.D.

Keywords

Capital Sentencing, Qualitative Hypothesis Testing

Abstract

Despite positive steps toward the suppression of racial discrimination in the United States capital punishment process, the enduring effects of a cultural legacy of Black oppression (e.g., slavery; segregation; lynching) and historic and systemic racial discrimination in the criminal justice system have persisted to the present day. The purpose of the current study is to explore whether this enduring cultural legacy still exists by examining whether juries in rape-involved capital murder trials in North Carolina are more likely to recommend a sentence of death when the defendant is a Black male and the victim is a White female (compared to White male victims and White female victims). Within an analytic induction framework, the current study utilizes qualitative hypothesis testing to critically test each of the rape-involved homicide cases in an effort to elucidate the legal (e.g., circumstances of the case) and extra-legal (e.g., race of the defendant and victim, respectively; multiple dimensions of the ECL) factors that influence death sentence recommendations in North Carolina during this time period. The qualitative analysis involves the comprehensive reading and documentation of case narratives and newspaper articles in which I re-sort (i.e., reclassify) the hypothesis-supporting, hypothesis-non-supporting, and hypothesis-rejecting cases while considering the salient circumstances of the trial (e.g., aggravating circumstances; perceived brutality of the crimes committed) and the influence of multiple dimensions of the ECL (e.g., the liberation hypothesis; credibility of the White female victim). Findings from the qualitative analysis failed to show support for the ECL hypothesis (24.1% of trials showed support for the hypothesis, 19% of trials rejected the hypothesis, 57% of trials did not show support for or reject the hypothesis). While the findings did not show support for the ECL hypothesis in any context, the rich information uncovered in the extensive review of LexisNexis case narratives and newspaper articles that had a direct bearing on the qualitative findings and interpretations that could not be identified in a quantitative approach to the data (e.g., a juror’s expression of racial attitudes that was the single greatest piece of evidence showing support for the ECL; detailed descriptions of especially brutal trial circumstances that may have influenced jury sentencing decisions; the perceived credibility or chastity of the victim; the inclusion of relevant trials and exclusion of trials not appropriate for analysis) demonstrates the value of a qualitative approach to the study of racial discrimination in jury sentencing decisions.