James Acker, a criminal justice professor at the State University of New York at Albany, describes the “competing theories" this way. One is that "this is about chivalry, where we’re all bending over backward to make sure no women, or members of the fairer sex, are treated this way, versus the less-sexist notion that women ... who do [commit capital murder] somehow tend to lose their identity as female and become a demonic killer that overwhelms the definition of a woman – that to dispatch someone to execution you almost have to relegate them [to being] outside the human family." Still, he adds, "it’s more difficult to do that with a woman than a man.”
The Arias case alone probably won’t provide much of a guidepost to the direction of sentiment in the US regarding executing women. But the sentencing phase comes at a peculiar time in the annals of death row – chiefly that the share of women murderers entering death row has stayed constant even as the percentage of men sentenced to die has noticeably dropped.
From 1973 to 1999, the percentage of women murderers receiving death sentences sank to historic lows, but the rate since 2001 has rebounded to the historical average, says Victor Streib, a retired Ohio Northern University law professor who published a periodic report about women on death rows in the US. Meanwhile, the rate at which men are being sentenced to death has notably decreased. The result: The percentage of female death sentences has jumped from 2 percent of the total, on average, to 6 percent, a peak, in 2011.