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May 10, 2013

Are there (and/or should there be) special death penalty rules for female murderers?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this new article in the Christian Science Monitor, which is headlined "Jodi Arias case: What's trend line on women getting the death penalty?."  Here are excerpts:

Whether Jodi Arias gets her wish — to be executed rather than spend her life in prison — is now up to the Arizona jury that on Wednesday found her guilty of brutally murdering her one-time boyfriend, Travis Alexander, in a jealous rage on June 4, 2008, in a Phoenix suburb.

The jury must consider whether the cruelty, brutality, and depravity of her attack on Mr. Alexander deserves a sentence of death, a finding that would make Ms. Arias the fourth woman to be awaiting execution on Arizona’s death row.  (The state has not executed a woman since Eva Dugan, a cabaret dancer, was hanged in 1930.)  Against that possibility, jurors will weigh potential mitigating circumstances, such as Arias's allegations of abuse, which she outlined at length during the trial....

The Maricopa County jury will deliberate against a backdrop of evolving societal views about female murderers.  On one hand is a somewhat chivalrous sense that women are not capable of brutality at the same level as men and resort to it under extenuating circumstances — such as sexual abuse that Arias claimed at the hand of her victim.  On the other is a sense that women can indeed be cold-blooded killers who are every bit as deserving of execution as male murderers.

James Acker, a criminal justice professor at the State University of New York at Albany, describes the “competing theories" this way.  One is that "this is about chivalry, where we’re all bending over backward to make sure no women, or members of the fairer sex, are treated this way, versus the less-sexist notion that women ... who do [commit capital murder] somehow tend to lose their identity as female and become a demonic killer that overwhelms the definition of a woman — that to dispatch someone to execution you almost have to relegate them [to being] outside the human family."  Still, he adds, "it’s more difficult to do that with a woman than a man.”

The Arias case alone probably won’t provide much of a guidepost to the direction of sentiment in the US regarding executing women.  But the sentencing phase comes at a peculiar time in the annals of death row — chiefly that the share of women murderers entering death row has stayed constant even as the percentage of men sentenced to die has noticeably dropped.

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Comments

article: "The state has not executed a woman since Eva Dugan, a cabaret dancer, was hanged in 1930"

me: the State of Arizona hanged a woman for being a caberet dancer???

and i thought that the Southern Baptists were opposed to dancing ;)

(sorry, i just have to laugh at how the way the article is written makes it sound like Ms. Dugan was hanged for dancing)

Erika :)

Posted by: Erika | May 10, 2013 2:02:54 PM

article: "The state has not executed a woman since Eva Dugan, a cabaret dancer, was hanged in 1930"

me: note to self: if ever in Arizona, try to remember that they seem to be really opposed to women dancing and the penalties are extremely harsh ;)

Erika :)

Posted by: Erika | May 10, 2013 2:13:03 PM

Oh, my original joke did show up after all - i thought it was lost :)

(at least the second joke is much better in my opinion)

Posted by: Erika | May 10, 2013 2:16:14 PM

Women always get a better deal in the criminal justice system. They are less likely to be accused, arrested, tried, convicted or plea-bargained/punished as severely as men. This is one of those gender disparities that you rarely hear feminists complain about. Look at Lea and Andy Fastow. I remain convinced that they were equal partners yet Lea got the kid gloves treatment and a lot of sympathy in the press.

Posted by: Jardinero1 | May 10, 2013 3:26:10 PM

Gender stereotypes are involved in criminal justice as much as anything else & at times this hurt women. There is a pretty small sample size, but it probably helps women here to some extent, unless the woman somehow can be shown to have acted in a way that seems seriously contrary to her expected role. Societal biases is going to affect the system somehow. If there is a "plus" to being a woman, it is of a somewhat limited character. Not sure the average man will want to be one.

The reference to a "cabaret dancer" - why should that matter? It seems to imply she was the 'wrong' type, a violator of societal rules. Wikipedia suggests she might have been a black widow type ("She had been married five times, and all her husbands had disappeared.") Her crime was killing someone who she worked for as a housekeeper.

Posted by: Joe | May 10, 2013 6:06:38 PM

"Women always get a better deal in the criminal justice system. They are less likely to be accused, arrested, tried, convicted or plea-bargained/punished as severely as men."

Well, they're also considerably less likely to commit crimes, particularly violent ones, than men.

Posted by: Flashman | May 10, 2013 10:50:47 PM

I figure a murderer is a murderer is a murderer! i dont' care if they are male, female, blue, white, or purple. Once convicted. schedule an execution.

Posted by: rodsmith | May 11, 2013 1:12:44 AM

@Flashman
Women account for fewer crimes, it's true, but even taking that into account they are less likely to receive harsh punishment than men. For example only 12 women have been executed since the reintroduction of the death penalty while over 1200 men have been executed in the same period. Yet, women account for 10 to 15 percent of 1st degree murders. If they were punished to the extent as men then women should have accounted for hundreds of executions by now.

Posted by: MikeinCT | May 12, 2013 5:52:45 PM

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