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Which California counties hand down the most death sentences?

Eddie Ricky Nealy, whom a prosecutor called one of the most dangerous men in Fresno County’s history, was sentenced in December 2015 to California’s death row for the 1985 rape and killing of Fresno teen Jody Lynn Wolf.
Eddie Ricky Nealy, whom a prosecutor called one of the most dangerous men in Fresno County’s history, was sentenced in December 2015 to California’s death row for the 1985 rape and killing of Fresno teen Jody Lynn Wolf. Fresno Bee file

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 still condemn prisoners with relative 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 Sacramento 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.

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.

On the other end of the spectrum, Fresno County saw 555 murder arrests in the last decade, and one murderer condemned to death. None of the roughly 350 murder arrests in San Francisco in that period resulted in a sentence of death.

The Sacramento Bee’s Data Tracker is a weekly feature that offers a deeper look at the numbers behind today’s news. Phillip Reese: 916-321-1137.

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