Data Tracker

See which California counties still send criminals to death row, despite lack of executions

By Phillip Reese -

A death row inmate stands inside his solitary cage during time away from his cell at the Adjustment Center.
A death row inmate stands inside his solitary cage during time away from his cell at the Adjustment Center.

It’s been a decade since California last executed a murderer. In the years since, more than 190 California criminals have been sentenced to death.

The sentences have not been uniformly distributed. Some counties have stopped or mostly stopped sending murderers to death row at San Quentin State Prison. Others continue to condemn prisoners with relatively high frequency.

It’s unclear whether these criminals will ever be executed. California halted executions in 2006 following a court order related to whether the state’s drug protocol constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. State officials have worked to resolve that question. Late last year, they unveiled a new lethal injection method that for the first time in state history calls for the use of only one drug to execute inmates.

Proponents for competing ballot initiatives – one that would speed up the process for executions, and one that would abolish the death penalty – are collecting signatures for the November ballot.

Since the state’s last execution in January 2006, more than 50 death row inmates have died from natural causes, suicide or other causes. About 750 inmates remain on death row.

The state Department of Justice does not publish murder convictions by county. So The Bee did its analysis by comparing arrests for willful homicides from 2005-2014 to death sentences meted out from 2006-2015. The comparison isn’t perfect: Criminal cases can lag arrests by more than a year; not all arrests lead to charges; and not all criminals arrested for willful homicide are eligible for the death penalty.

Among large communities, Riverside County emerged as the outlier in the analysis, condemning murderers to death row at more than five times the statewide rate during the last 10 years. About 6 percent of murder arrests in Riverside County resulted in a sentence of death during that time.

By comparison, about 1.1 percent of murder arrests statewide resulted in a sentence of death over that same period.

This map shows the counties where murder arrests most often resulted in death penalty convictions from 2006 through 2015.

Orange County condemned murderers to death row at more than twice the statewide rate. Together, Orange and Riverside counties account for 14 percent of the state’s population but 34 percent of criminals condemned to death in the last decade.

Some small counties condemn murderers at a high rate, but have relatively few homicides - a factor that could inflate their rates.

On the other end of the spectrum, Sacramento County saw almost 1,000 murder arrests in the last decade, and five murderers condemned to death, state figures show. None of the roughly 350 murder arrests in San Francisco over that period resulted in a sentence of death.

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