Friday, March 08, 2013


Is There Class Disparity with Executions?
From: Dudley Sharp, independent researcher, death penalty expert, former opponent, 832-439-2113, Houston, Texas, CV at bottom
updated 10/2019

One may presume, as do I, that wealthy capital murderers have a better chance of avoiding execution by their obvious ability to hire better counsel.

Presumption is not fact.

Is there class disparity? Maybe, but, possibly, immeasurably small.

99.8% of the poor murderers avoid executions.

It appears, solely, dependent upon one's definition of "wealthy" and "poor", as to whether "wealthy" murderers are any more or less likely to be executed than 0.2%, based upon the fact that the vast minority of capital murderers are "wealthy" and the vast majority of being" poor", with the most common death penalty eligible crime being robbery/murder, not a motive for the rich.


There is a limited study, which for me, is fairly conclusive that hired private counsel makes a huge difference.

From the brief (1).   V. Conclusion

"Death penalty opponents charge that socioeconomic status shapes capital punishment. Wealthy defendants who can hire counsel are exempt from death, but poor defendants who must accept appointed counsel are condemned."

My findings both support and refute opponents claims:

--- Hiring counsel for the entire case not only eliminates the chance of death, but also dramatically increases the chance of an acquittal.

--- Hiring counsel for a portion of the case substantially reduces the chance of death.

--- Hiring counsel is not related to wealth. Almost all capital defendants are poor.

Some other considerations, nationally.

1) Very rarely are poor murderers sentenced to death and executed.

99.8% of poor murderers have avoided execution.

There have been about 900,000 murders (1973-2023), 1973 being when the first new death penalty statutes were enacted, after Furman v Georgia. Possibly 10% of those may be death penalty eligible, or about 90,000 (a). From 1973-2023, about 1600 capital murderers have been executed, or 0.19% out of 900,000 or 1.9% out of 90,000. The overwhelming majority of those murderers are "poor".

Even more rare and much less often, per capita, I venture, do the wealthy commit capital murder. Is a significantly smaller percentage of wealthy capital murderers, less than 1.9%, likely to be executed? (b). Yes, but for circumstances other than private counsel.

2) It appears, solely, dependent upon one's definition of "wealthy" and "poor", as to whether wealthy murderers are any more or less likely to be executed, based upon the very small number and percentage of capital murders that are committed by the wealthy, as compared to the poor.

Possibly, your definition of "wealthy" will find, more or less, that 99.8% of wealthy murderers have avoided execution, just as the "poor" have.

3) Here is why the wealthy will by much, much less likely to, even, commit death eligible crimes:

a) The two most frequent crimes which put murderers on death row are robbery/murders and rape/murderers. 

Rationally, wealthy murderers are much less likely, per capita, to commit such crimes, when compared to poor murderers. 

 NOTE: There are a number of cases whereby children murdered their parents for an inheritance. I don't know if those children qualified as wealthy, either before or after those murders.

b) According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Capital Punishment Series, 65% of those on death row had a prior felony conviction, with 7-8% having a prior murder conviction.

I strongly suspect that wealthy murderers are much less likely, per capita, to have either of those priors than are poor murderers. Criminal backgrounds are important in death penalty cases. This, alone, may explain any alleged disparity between the wealthy and the poor, if there is any.

For example, in the Menendez brothers case, whereby they murdered their parents, ". . . the jury rejected the death penalty because neither brother had a felony record or a history of violence. " NOTE from Sharp: Astounding that their history of violence against their parents was not enough.

c) Accounting for a and b, the wealthy may be 5-10 times less likely to commit capital murders per capita than are the poor and/or to have existing criminal records which would make it much less likely for them to be prosecuted for a death penalty eligible crime and/or sentenced to death, than the poor.

There is a reason there are few wealthy on death row or executed. In gross numbers, as well as per capita, they are much less likely to commit capital murder than are the poor.

NOTE: Furthermore, Dr. Joseph Katz found that, while 74% of all Georgia murder defendants were poor, only 38% of those on death row were poor (McCleskey).  

note: I need to research how they are defined (2023).

4) In Mark Castanzo's book "Just Revenge: Costs and Consequences of the Death Penalty", he claimed that 2/3 of death penalty trials ended with a sanction less than death.

Overwhelmingly, such means that poor murderers will be getting the vast majority of those benefits. Are wealthy murderers more likely to receive that benefit, per capita? Unlikely, based upon 3a&b, above, and (c) below.

5) 37% of all death row inmates have their cases overturned on appeal. Again, overwhelmingly, such means that poor murderers will be getting the vast majority of those benefits. Are wealthy death row murderers more likely, per capita, to receive that benefit? Unlikely, based upon 3 above and (c) below.

6) I have been told, repeatedly, with no supportive evidence, that 90% of those on death row had a public defender. Such would mean that close to 10% of those on death row must have some wealth to hire private counsel. I would be astounded if the percentage were that high.

If it is true, then there is no truth that the wealthy are barred or protected from death row or execution, based upon their wealth and ability to hire better counsel, if not just more expensive counsel.

In fact, based upon (c) below, we may be executing the wealthy at a higher rate than the poor.

Again, how one defines "wealthy" and "poor" may be the determining factor.


I will continue to believe that truly wealthy capital defendants/murderers, who can hire the finest counsel, must have an advantage over their poorer ilk, but that the database of wealthy capital murderers is so small as to, likely, make moot any statistical relevance.

Keep in mind that, so far, poor murderers are avoiding execution about 99.8% of the time - and I don't think we have any evidence that wealthy murderers are executed substantially less than .19% of the time (1 above).

We may even be executing wealthy murderers at a rate higher than expected. See (c) below.

(a) While many of those murders would have multiple victims, so to would many also have multiple murderers. So, while 50,000 cases may be death penalty eligible, because of multiple victims, it will, also, say that 80,000 murderers will be subject to execution, based upon some cases having multiple offenders.

(b) I have not tried to compile a list of the wealthy on death row, in the modern era. I just happen to know of these.

Some wealthy, sent to death row. Garza and Smith have been executed.

Robert Marshall (New Jersey), Thomas Capano (Delaware), Juan Raul Garza (federal), Markum Duff Smith (Texas)

(c) THE WEALTHY AND DEATH ROW - Contrary to opponents claims, there is no systemic evidence that wealthy capital murderers are less likely to be executed than their poorer ilk. 

Drawing only on personal knowledge, with no study, I found that since 1973, in Texas, alone, at least seven middle class to wealthy murderers have been put on death row. 

Four, Markum Duff Smith, George Lott, Robert Black, Jr., and Ronald O'Bryan have been executed. Three additional await execution. Extensive, objective research would, undoubtedly, reveal many more. Don’t forget John Wayne Gacy. 

Furthermore, Dr. Joseph Katz found that, while 74% of all Georgia murder defendants were poor, only 38% of those on death row were poor (McCleskey). 

Informed Speculation: 5% of the U.S. population (12 million) can afford to pay the $400,000* cost for their capital trial and appeals. Because financial need can be excluded, the category of wealthy capital murderer can be assumed to murder at a rate 10 times less than their poorer ilk. 

Fact: 0.20% of the U.S. population commits murder. 1.3% of those are sentenced to death. Only 6% of those have been executed. 

Therefore, the projected number of wealthy executed from 1976-1996 is 2 , 
or 12 million x .1 x .0020 x .013 x .06. Using 1973-1996 data. 

Therefore, just based upon what I know, in Texas, the wealthy are more likely to be executed/death penalty eligible murders, than are the poor.

*conservative estimate based on opponents’ high cost claims (see E??) 

Dudey Sharp, 10/1/97, found 5/26/13, at


1) Brief  "Hire a lawyer, Escape the Death Penalty" 
By Scott Phillips, February 2010
This Issue Brief is based on an article entitled Legal Disparities in the Capital of Capital Punishment, 99 J. CRIM. L. & CRIMINOLOGY 717 (2009). The findings described here are confirmed in the multivariate statistical models presented in the full paper. The author may be contacted by mail at Scott Phillips; Department of Sociology and Criminology; University of Denver; 2000 E. Asbury Avenue; Denver, CO 80208-2948; or by email at

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