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Rory Little, a Hastings College of the Law professor, said the death sentencing decline reflects the “person on the street” being affected by news of the “actual innocence phenomenon,” referring to the rash of death row inmates exonerated. He added people are also uneasy about the disproportionate number of minorities sentenced to death ["Death sentences drop again in 2003," Dec. 22]. Prof. Little may be correct, but I doubt it. Some of the jurisdictions most likely to sentence people to death have seen dramatic reductions in murders. For example, Harris County (Houston) Texas, the No. 1 sentencing and execution jurisdiction in the U.S., saw a 70 percent decline in murder from 1982-2000. This is not surprising, as seven major studies, since 2001, all found for a significant deterrent effect of the death penalty — a dramatic reduction. Furthermore, with the SCOTUS decisions in Ring and Atkins, as well as others, you have states rewriting their statutes and reconsidering how to move forward in some cases. Furthermore, it is very likely that many prosecutors have come to the conclusion that the courts will never allow executions. Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania are excellent examples of this. In Pennsylvania, only “volunteers,” those who waive further appeals, are executed. Those issues, by themselves, are very likely to have accounted for the reductions in death sentences. It is, however, important to review Prof. Little’s alternate explanations. The news media, endlessly and irresponsibly, parrots the fraudulent innocence claims of death penalty opponents. Those opponents willfully “confuse” factual and legal innocence. And the jury pool may be affected by the “no fact checking” media’s constant presentation of that deception. The number of actual innocents released from death row may be around 30, or 0.4 percent, of the 7,400 inmates sentenced to death row since 1973, the modern death penalty era, post- Furman v. Georgia. Death penalty opponents (and the media) say the number is now 114. None of those 30, or 114, were executed. It is unlikely that there is a more accurate sentence, based upon convicting the actually guilty and post-conviction review freeing those rare actual innocents convicted. The seven recent deterrence studies have been virtually invisible in the media, unlike the constant “innocents” from death row stories, and there is not a “disproportionate number of minorities sent to death.” White murderers (excluding Hispanics) have committed 38 percent of homicides since 1973, minorities, 62 percent. White murderers represent 57 percent of those executed, 43 percent minorities. White murderers are twice as likely to be executed as are black murderers. White death row inmates are executed, on average, 12 months more quickly than are black death row inmates. It would be interesting to see what effect this information might have on the jury pool. Dudley Sharp Houston, Texas

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