The intense media coverage of the United States Supreme Court's recent decisions in Baze v. Rees' and Kennedy v. Louisiana highlights the ongoing saliency of the death penalty in American politics. In this article, we use empirical evidence to shed light on this controversy. Our analysis utilizes data from 1,068 first-degree murder convictions rendered in Tennessee between 1977 and 2007. The questions animating our research are: 1) What factors led prosecutors to seek the death penalty? and 2) What factors led juries to impose it? In particular, we are interested in the role that race plays in these decisions. Does the system operate in a racially-neutral fashion, or is it hopelessly infected with discrimination, as some prior studies in other states have suggested?

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