Mr. McCleskey was a Black man, that was convicted of two counts armed robbery and one count of murder in the Supreme Court of Fulton County, Georgia. His convictions were due to the robbery of a furniture store and the killing of a white police officer while the robbery was occurring. There was evidence presented at trial that proved one of the bullets to be from a . 38 caliber Rossi revolver, which fit the description of the gun McCleskey was carrying, and two witnesses who had heard McCleskey had admitted to the shooting.
McCleskey was convicted of murder, by the jury. In the state of Georgia the jury is not allowed to impose, or consider imposing the death penalty unless it is found beyond reasonable doubt that the murder was accompanied by statutory aggravating circumstances. The jury in this case found two aggravating circumstances to exist. They found that the murder was committed during an armed robbery, and that the murder was committed against a peace officer while he was doing his duties.
The court agreed with the jury and sentenced McCleskey to death. McCleskey, on many attempts had failed to achieve relief from the Supreme Courts of Georgia on appeals, his writ of certiorari, and a motion for a new trial. This lead McCleskey to file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Federal District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. One of the claims was that the Georgia capital sentencing process is administered in a racially discriminatory manner which violates the Eight and Fourteenth Amendments.
In order to support this claim, McCleskey used a statistical study to prove that black defendants who kill white victims are more likely to receive the death sentence in the state. The question in the matter now is whether or not the statistical study was able to prove that McCleskey’s sentence violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. The District Court held an extensive evidentiary hearing on McCleskey’s petition, and found that the study by Baldus was flawed in many aspects, and dismissed the petition.
They found the statistics to be “insufficient to demonstrate discriminatory intent or unconstitutional discrimination in the Fourteenth Amendment context” and was insufficient in showing the irrationality and inconstant and unpredictable under any kind of Eighth Amendment analysis. McCleskey argued however the court held that since he was unable to prove that the discrimination of blacks purposefully was existent, that there was no constitutional violations, and Justice Powell refused to use the statistical study in the case. He argued that the data produced was not fitting for the courts, but to be best presented to legislative bodies.
The dissenting opinions were largely stating that “the death penalty in all circumstances is cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. ” Brennan also argues that the Court was, and should be concerned with the risk of discrimination in the enforcing of the death penalty, not whether a defendant can prove actual discrimination. Brennan continually argued that when race and death are correlated or linked, such as with he Baldus study, the court needs to demand the highest examination of the process of enforcing the death penalty.