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Criminology Forum 10/23, “Murder Case Processing and the Death Penalty in PA: 2000-2010”

Please join us for the upcoming Criminology Forum on October 23, 4:00- 5:00 p.m. in 302 Pond Lab.

Dr. Jeffery Ulmer, Professor of Sociology and Criminology Penn State, Associate Department Head and Dr. Gary Zajac, Managing Director Criminal Justice Research Center, Penn State, will be presenting "“Murder Case Processing and the Death Penalty in PA: 2000-2010.” The death penalty and murder sentencing are the most consequential punishment decisions in U.S. society. There has been long-standing concern about disparity in these decisions, most prominently, disparity based on the race/ethnicity and gender of defendants and victims, as well as concern about differences in case outcomes related to legal representation, and differences between court jurisdictions. We examine murder case processing with a focus on decisions surrounding the death penalty in first degree murders. We collected basic statistical data on 4,274 cases charged with homicide in Pennsylvania from 2000 to 2010, and then collected highly detailed data from courts and prosecutors’ offices on a subset of 880 first degree murder convictions in 18 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. Utilizing propensity score weighting methods, we examined: 1) prosecutors’ decisions to seek the death penalty, 2)prosecutors’ decisions to retract a motion to seek the death penalty once it is filed, and 3) court decisions to sentence defendants to death or life without parole. We conclude by describing our extension of this research to include non-capital murders and earlier case processing decisions by prosecutors. This lecture is co-sponsored by the Criminal Justice Research Center and the Department of Sociology and Criminology.