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Bias in Military Death Penalty

The Vol. 5, No. 6, issue of PLN reported on studies showing the new federal death penalty was racially biased. A recent report issued by the Death Penalty Information Center notes that of the six men (three soldiers, two marines and an airman) awaiting execution at the US Disciplinary Barracks in Ft. Leavanworth, Kansas, five are black. This falls into the historic pattern of military executions. Between the 1950 passage of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and 1961, when military executions halted, eight of the nine soldiers executed were black, one was white.

All of the current military prisoners awaiting executing have been convicted of killing whites, those convicted of killing black victims have received life sentences. The military has not executed, with judicial sanction, any of its members since 1961. That will likely change in the near future as several of the soldiers awaiting execution have almost exhausted their military appeals and their death warrants will be forwarded to president Clinton for signature. As Governor of Arkansas Clinton never granted a petition for clemency and presided over the murder of four prisoners, one of them, Ricky Rector (who was Black or metally disabled), during his presidential campaign.

David Brahms, a retired white Brigadier General who had served as the Marine Corps highest defense lawyer, said that base commanders are usually white and most court martial juries are white. The result is greater punishment for black defendants convicted of murder in the military.

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