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Some victims matter more than others

DENVER, March 8 (UPI) -- A study of a Texas county found a defendant is much more likely to be sentenced to death if he or she kills a so-called high-status victim, researchers said.

Scott Phillips, associate professor of sociology and criminology at the University of Denver, said recent discussions of the death penalty tend to focus on innocence and cost, but arbitrariness has long been a concern.

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The study, published in Law and Society Review, found the probability of being sentenced to death is much greater if a defendant kills a white or Hispanic victim who is married with a clean criminal record and a college degree, as opposed to a black or Asian victim who is single with a prior criminal record and no college degree.

The study is based on 504 death penalty cases in Harris County, Texas, between 1992 and 1999.

"The concept of arbitrariness suggests that the relevant legal facts of a capital case cannot fully explain the outcome: irrelevant social facts also shape the ultimate state sanction" Phillips said in a statement. "In the capital of capital punishment, death is more apt to be sought and imposed on behalf of high status victims. Some victims matter more than others."

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