Supreme Court Case Tests 'Sex Shaming' Defense

Prosecutors highlighted sex life of Brenda Andrew, now on death row
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 6, 2024 5:30 AM CDT
Supreme Court Case Tests 'Sex Shaming' Defense
A file photo of Brenda Andrew.   (Oklahoma Department of Corrections)

The Supreme Court will hear an appeal from the only woman on Oklahoma's death row this month, and the case may set a precedent in regard to prosecutors focusing on a defendant's sex life. Coverage:

  • The inmate: Brenda Andrew, 60, was sentenced to death in 2004 after being convicted in the fatal shooting of her husband, Rob Andrew, reports the Oklahoman. Brenda Andrew's boyfriend, James Pavatt, told investigators he acted alone, but prosecutors say Brenda Andrew helped him. Pavatt also is on death row.

  • The issue: In the New York Times, Adam Liptak reports that prosecutors played up Andrew's sexual activities during the trial, including when an attorney held up her thong underwear during closing arguments. "Every single day the state was presenting gendered evidence about her appearance, about her clothing, about her sexual practices, about her skills as a mother," says attorney Nathalie Greenfield. "We've got someone who is at risk of execution for not conforming to gender stereotypes."
  • A precedent? Liptak notes that courts have previously scrapped a death sentence because of racial bias—this case "asks whether courts should take a similar approach to evidence grounded in gender stereotypes." In other words, it's about "sex shaming," as the headline puts it.
  • Argument: An amicus brief filed on Andrew's behalf argues that prosecutors' portrayal of Andrews as a "hypersexual seductress and uncaring mother ... deflected the jury's focus from an inquiry into Andrew's guilt or innocence to a referendum on Andrew's femininity and morality," per The post includes details on a second brief arguing gender bias in the case of another death row inmate, Brittany Holberg in Texas.
(More death penalty stories.)

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