Defendants challenge death penalty trials, cite study finding racial bias in Arizona system

Jimmy Jenkins

Arizona Republic

More than 50 years after the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the arbitrary application of the death penalty, a new study has found evidence of ongoing racial bias in Arizona’s capital punishment system.

The study was conducted in 2022 and 2023 by Frank Baumgartner, a political science professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The work was commissioned by the Maricopa County Public Defender’s Office. Baumgartner has researched and written extensively on the death penalty. 

The research shows Black men in Arizona are much more likely to be sentenced to death if they are accused of killing a white woman. 

The public defender’s office has filed Baumgartner’s study as an exhibit in six cases in which the office is asking a judge to deny the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office’s notice to seek the death penalty against Black men charged with first degree murder. 

The defendants filed motions separately but have requested to join an evidentiary hearing led by the defense team for Anthony Milan Ross. All six defendants are awaiting trial.

Ross, a Black man, is accused of fatally shooting his former wife Iris Ross, a white woman, and their two children in Phoenix on Christmas in 2017.  He was charged in 2018 and has a trial scheduled for 2024.

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