Date of Award




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


School of Criminal Justice

Content Description

1 online resource (viii, 208 pages) : illustrations, map.

Dissertation/Thesis Chair

Alan J. Lizotte

Committee Members

Alan J. Lizotte, James R. Acker, Greg Pogarsky, William J. Bowers


capital punishment, death penalty, geographical disparity, lynching, racial threat, Texas, Capital punishment, Discrimination in capital punishment

Subject Categories

Criminology | Geography | Sociology


In its landmark decision, Furman v. Georgia (1972), the Supreme Court held all existing death penalty statutes unconstitutional, largely due to the arbitrary nature of the capital sentencing processes that resulted from them. In response to the Furman decision, several states revised their death penalty statutes to address the Court's concerns. Although the Court upheld the newly-drafted statutes in Gregg v. Georgia (1976) and its companion cases, subsequently reinstating the death penalty, intrastate variation in death sentencing suggests that the death penalty may continue to be applied in an arbitrary and capricious manner inconsistent with the Eighth Amendment. This dissertation addresses the issue of geographical disparity in death sentencing within the counties of Texas. While the sentencing literature largely recognizes that capital punishment is a regionalized phenomenon, primarily embedded in the South, little research explores the potential influence of local context on death sentencing. Given that the most important decision-making in capital cases occurs at the local level, additional research is needed to advance knowledge in this area. Zero-inflated negative binomial regression is used to determine whether legally irrelevant contextual factors have influenced the number of offenders sentenced to death in post-Furman Texas (1977-2007). In addition to assessing the influence of modern social conditions on death sentencing, this study highlights the enduring relevance of a county's "legacy of lynching." This research also includes four supplementary analyses that explore whether the effect of religious fundamentalism on death sentencing is conditioned by a county's level of "southerness;" whether the percentage of a county's population rural and its financial standing interact to increase death sentencing; whether external racial threat influences cross-county variation in death sentencing; and, finally, the potential for contextual effects to vary across three smaller time periods (1977-1986, 1987-1996, and 1997-2006).