Public opinion polls show that the majority of people in the United States support capital punishment but that is because the majority of White Americans support it. Research on the opinions of non-Whites consistently finds less support. We examine racial and ethnic differences among people who actually had to decide whether to impose the death penalty, former capital jurors, and hypothesize that lower support among non-Whites can be explained by the fact that non-Whites are more likely to distrust the criminal justice system and more likely to show empathy for the defendant in a capital case, net of defendant and victim race. Using data from the Capital Jury Project, we find support for this hypothesis in a mediating relationship between race and sentencing vote. Black and Hispanic jurors are more likely to report distrust of the capital process and higher levels of empathy for the defendant, both of which lower the probability of a death vote during the sentencing phase of the trial. We discuss the implications for research, trial strategy, and the future of capital punishment in light of these findings.
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