Most murders committed by women are domestic murders, which are often considered acts of passion and not eligible for the death penalty, Mr. Dunham said. Jurors, sometimes subconsciously, take into account stereotypical views of women, including that they are less violent and pose less of a future threat to society.
“The sense is that a woman is going to commit acts of violence only in extreme circumstances of extreme emotional stress or acting out of extreme mental illness,” Mr. Dunham said, noting that prosecutors who seek death penalties for women are often perceived as “bloodthirsty.”
In cases of women on trial for murder, prosecutors often attempt to portray women as “deviant” and not meeting traditional gender roles, and they tend to blame them for their own abuse or mental illness, he said.
Execution of women is rare: Since 1632, there have been 575 documented executions of women of the more than 15,000 confirmed executions in the United States, according to the Espy File, a database of executions in the United States and the earlier colonies.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty in 1972, arguing that it constituted “cruel and unusual punishment,” then reversed its decision four years later, 16 women in death rows across the country have been executed.
Among them was Aileen Wuornos, a hitchhiking prostitute who killed six men along Florida highways. Ms. Wuornos initially claimed the killings were in self-defense after she was assaulted by clients but later told officials she did them intentionally. She was executed in Florida in 2002.
Last year, Attorney General William P. Barr announced that the Justice Department would resume executions of federal inmates sentenced to death, using a single drug, pentobarbital, after several botched executions by lethal injection renewed scrutiny of capital punishment.