The Death Penalty in Black And White – Part I
I Was In Prison
Online Prison Ministry Newsletter
October 31, 2007
Dale S. Recinella, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed

The Death Penalty In Black And White – Part II
By: Dale Recinella

The young man who cornered me in a Port Orange grocery store aisle shifts his weight with obvious discomfort.


The facts of racial bias in America’s and Florida’s death penalty are grating against his American sense of justice and fairness.

“If the facts are like you say they are—blacks are over-represented on Florida’s death row and in Florida executions at the rate of 250% or more; a Florida murderer who kills a white is more than three times more likely to get the death penalty than one who kills a black; the American death penalty is rooted in the death penalty of slavery; and since 1769, the beginning of capital punishment in Florida as a territory, no white has ever been executed by the state for killing a black—wouldn’t the U.S. Supreme Court have ruled it unconstitutional?

“You’d think so,” I bob and weave as shoppers coming through the aisle reach around us to grab packages of tissue off the shelves. “It seems like the barest minimum of constitutional protection would require that the death penalty be colorblind. But it just isn’t so.”

“Has anyone asked the Supreme Court to review this?”

“Yes. The Supreme Court was asked to review the death penalty and race. The case, called McCleskey v. Kemp, was from Georgia and was decided in 1987. The Court was presented with strong statistical evidence, prepared by topnotch university professors with worldwide reputations for integrity and accuracy. They showed the odds of receiving a death sentence for murder in Georgia were more than 7 times higher for killing a white than for killing a black. Even worse, the Court was presented evidence that in Georgia blacks who kill whites are sentenced to death at nearly twenty-two times the rate of blacks who kill blacks.”

“That’s unbelievable. What did the Court do?”

“More incredible than the statistics is the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court held that such a huge racial disparity in death sentencing was not a constitutional violation. They held that a condemned person must prove that the individuals involved in his or her case—the jurors, the judge, the prosecutors, the police—had racial prejudice in their mind when they acted against the defendant. The Court ruled that, in the case of the death penalty, one must prove an actual intent to discriminate in order to show racial bias.”

“What? That’s an impossible standard. I’ve had criminology courses in junior college. It’s so hard to prove a person’s actual intentions that the courts always allow intent to be inferred from the facts, even criminal intent. No one can prove discriminatory intent unless the guilty party gets up on the witness stand and admits under oath, ‘I did this because I’m racially prejudiced.’ That never happens, not even in the movies!”

I try to let the young man’s words ring in his own ears for a few moments before responding. But an irate middle-aged woman with children wrestling in her grocery cart interrupts our sacred pause.

“I know there’s a war on terror, but I didn’t realize they had appointed people like you two to guard the toilet paper!”

“Excuse us,” we mumble in unison, slipping sheepishly to the end of the aisle by the meat counter.

“Florida and Georgia are not alone,” I continue, after making sure that the addled matron has moved out of earshot. “Since capital punishment resumed in America in 1976, 237 people have been executed in the U.S. for interracial murders. In only 15 cases (6.3%), has a white person been executed for killing a black. In 222 such cases (93.7%), a black person was executed for killing a white.”

“This is beyond belief!” he sighs.

“This is the legacy of slavery,” I nudge him toward the checkout. “We abolished slavery over a century-and-a-half ago. It’s time to abolish the death penalty of slavery as well.”

(To be continued)

Statistics updated as of September 24, 2007.



First published: The Florida Catholic, August 21, 2003 © 2003 Dale S. Recinella & The Florida Catholic. Used with permission. No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission. All rights reserved Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.

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This ezine is targeted for people involved in prison ministry or in stopping the death penalty, we think you will find helpful information for people who are undecided about capital punishment, for those who have never experienced the inside of a jail or prison, and for those who feel called to participate through prayer and adoration.

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Dale S. Recinella, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed

If you Like this Weekly Ezine - You will love Dale's Book!
Sr. Patricia Proctor
Paperback: 433 pages

Excellent book on the topic!,
June 13, 2005 Nathan Eanes
(Review from Amazon.com)

The Biblical Truth about America's Death Penalty is a must-read. It deals with Biblical standards of Capital Punishment and then compares them to the system used in America today. It is the best-researched, most faithful to scripture, and most evenhanded analysis I have ever read concerning the Death Penalty. Whatever your persuasion on the issue, this book will teach you a great deal. Recinella is a trained lawyer and committed Christian who now volunteers part-time on Florida's death row. He thus understands law, the Bible, and the system of execution in America. I challenge anyone who supports the Death Penalty to read this book.



This ezine edited by Sister Patricia Proctor, OSC - Poor Clare Sister
to support the IWasInPrison Outreach