America's five deadliest prosecutors are named; is capital sentencing personality driven?

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By Debra Cassens Weiss

ABA Journal
 
A report released on Thursday identifies the nation’s five “deadliest” prosecutors whose offices are collectively responsible for more than 440 death sentences in the last 40 years.

The sentences obtained by the prosecutors represent about 15 percent of the current death row population, according to a press release announcing the report (PDF) by the Fair Punishment Project at Harvard Law School.

Put another way, the Guard-ian reports, the five prosecutors are responsible for about one in 20 of the 8,038 death sentences imposed since capital punishment was effectively reinstated by the 1976 case Gregg v. Georgia.

Four of the five prosecutors are no longer in office. Capital convictions declined dramatically in their jurisdictions after they left. The report says the statistics point to “personality-driven capital sentencing.”

The report also says that eight of the defendants who received death sentences under four of the prosecutors were later exonerated and released from death row. There were no exonerations among capital convictions ob-tained by Donald Myers of the 11th Judicial District in South Carolina, the only prosecutor among the five who is still in office.

The prosecutors are:

• Joe Freeman Britt of Robeson County, North Caro-lina. He obtained 38 death sentences over the course of 14 years.

• Robert Macy of Oklahoma County, Oklahoma. He obtained 54 death sentences over the course of 21 years.

• Donald Myers of the 11th Judicial District in South Carolina. He obtained 39 death sentences over the course of 38 years.

• Lynne Abraham of Phila-delphia County, Pennsylvania. Her office obtained 108 death sentences over the course of 19 years.

• Johnny Holmes of Harris County, Texas. His office obtained 201 death sentences over the course of 21 years.

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