How likely is it that someone who committed a violent sex offense and murder at 18 will commit another one? It may be impossible to say. What we do know is that there is no evidence the likelihood is 80%, as was claimed by the prosecution in one 2006 Texas case.
In this case, it could make the difference between the death penalty and life in prison without parole. In Texas, once a person has been convicted of capital murder, a jury is asked to decide which penalty the defendant will receive. One of the factors the jury considers is the likelihood the defendant would reoffend, if given the chance.
Ramiro Gonzalez was convicted of kidnapping, raping and murdering Bridget Townsend when they were both 18. The appeal in his case doesn’t focus on whether or not he is guilty, but on whether he should have been sentenced to death.
At trial, a prosecution expert witness testified that Ramiro would be very likely to commit a similar crime if he were given the opportunity. He told the jurors that a person who commits forcible rape is 80% or more likely to do it again.
“However, we now know this statistic to be inaccurate,” the expert wrote in a report on Ramiro’s behalf this May.
Where did that damning 80% statistic come from? According to the expert, there was no scholarly citation or peer-reviewed statistical study to point to. In actual fact, the number was a “bare assertion” in a 1980s psychology magazine. The article was written by someone without credentials and contained no citations.
Actual peer-reviewed statistical studies have demonstrated that the recidivism rate is far lower than that, especially among young offenders like Ramiro. As the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized, the adolescent brain is still developing and doesn’t reach full maturity until around age 25. As a result, younger people are more likely to act impulsively and fail to predict the outcome of their decisions.
Conservative court orders new sentencing
No defendant should have their fate determined by a made-up statistic. Even the highly conservative Texas Court of Criminal Appeals agrees. Just two days before Ramiro was set to be put to death, that court put the execution on hold and remanded the sentencing back to the trial court for reconsideration.
The likelihood that Ramiro would commit another forcible rape is almost certainly far less than 80%. In prison, he has focused on faith and has arguably rehabilitated himself, at least in part. As he has a rare blood type, he recently offered to donate a kidney to a person who needed one in order to save a life after having taken another.