Donald "Pee Wee" Gaskins assumed a reluctant spot in American history five years ago.
A white South Carolina prison inmate already serving a life sentence for murder, Gaskins was sent to the electric chair after killing a black inmate. His execution marked the first time a white person was put to death for murdering a black since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976, according to data collected by the NAACP's Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc.Now Troy Kell may rewrite Utah history.
Kell could become only the sixth white man, and first Utahn, executed in the United States since 1976 for murdering a black person. Conversely, 100 blacks have been put to death for killing whites, according to the NAACP report.
A Sanpete County jury decided Wednesday to hand the Gunnison prison inmate the death penalty for stabbing and killing fellow inmate Lonnie Blackmon, who is black.
Executing Kell won't be cause to rejoice, said Jeanetta Williams, president of Utah's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"Our organization is against the death penalty, and one of the biggest reasons is because it is (performed) disproportionately," said Williams.
Indeed, U.S. execution rosters suggest a convicted murderer is much more likely to face the death sentence for killing whites than blacks.
Almost 250 white defendants have been executed since 1977 for killing other whites - a huge number compared to the handful of whites put to death for killing blacks.
The numbers appear unbalanced for black defendants as well, according to NAACP statistics. One hundred blacks have been executed for killing whites, while 49 have been executed for murdering other blacks.
"Historically, the death sentence is steeped in protecting certain victims' lives over others," said Steven Hawkins, executive director for the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty.
Hawkins acknowledges that each death sentence is an independent case decided by an independent jury but adds "the problem is one of discretion. . . . One of the real problems of the death sentence is that it's never going to be handled or prosecuted the same way in each case."
Williams said U.S. prisons can be a magnifying glass for racial tensions because of inmates' confined living conditions. More can be done to foil other raciallysparked prison murders and assaults.
"There's a real need for diversity education and sensitivity training in prisons so people can learn to interact without these problems," said Williams.
Black and White
Black 124 38.99%
White 175 55.03%
Race of Victims
White 350 82.16%
Black 55 12.91%
White victim 242 56.81%
Black victim 5 11.71%
White victim 100 23.47%
Black victim 49 11.50%
Source: NAACP Defense and Educational Fund Inc.