University of Iowa Law Professor Josephine Gittler said she lost a friend she had known for 40 years and the law school lost one of it’s most dedicated teachers Monday.
“He was a wonderful friend and colleague, one that the law school community had great respect and affection for him,” Gittler said. “I was grateful for the opportunity to see him and say goodbye.”
Law Professor David Baldus, 75, of Iowa City, died early Monday from colon cancer. He had been at the university since 1969 and continued to work on research projects up until a few weeks ago, his colleagues said. He wasn’t teaching full-time but was co-teaching with another professor for the last year or so.
Baldus over the years taught criminal law, anti-discrimination law, capital punishment and federal criminal law, and he was nationally recognized for his research on the death penalty.
He wrote many papers, book chapters and studies “debunking the myths of the death penalty,” Bill Hines, law professor and former law school dean for 28 years, said Monday.
“It was all about the fairness of how it (death penalty) was administered and he found it’s virtually impossible to do it fairly,” Hines said. “His best known work was regarding race and how it affected who received capital punishment.”
Baldus conducted many studies regarding how capital punishment was administered. One well know study he conducted in 1983, along with other two professors, involved examining the presence of racial discrimination in death penalty sentencing, according to his bio information and various newspaper articles.
The study analyzed more than 2,000 murder cases in Georgia in the 1970s and Baldus examined the cases that occurred between two United States Supreme Court cases in 1972 and 1987. The study looked at the race of the victim in each murder case to evaluate the presence of racial discrimination.
Baldus’ work found defendants accused of killing white victims were 4.3 times more likely to receive the death penalty than ones accused of killing black victims. The study also showed that black defendants were 1.7 times more likely than white defendants to receive the death penalty.
Hines said Baldus received national recognition for his results that were used by the defense in one case, McClesky v. Kemp. Warren McClesky, a black man, was convicted in 1978 in Georgia for armed robbery and murder. He robbed a furniture store and killed a white police officer.
“His work was extremely careful,” Hines said. “He was a consummate professional who took great care and passion in his work. He was just an amazing researcher.”
Sandy Boyd, former university president for 12 years and founder of Larned A. Waterman Iowa Nonprofit Resource Center, said Baldus was a pioneer in his death penalty studies and a superior teacher and “strong proponent of academic freedom.”
“He was one of the nation’s outstanding law professors and a great citizen of the university, Boyd said. “He had a great warmth and concern for others.”
Boyd said Baldus remained dedicated to his work until the end. He was often at the school on Saturdays and Sundays, and he continued working a new research project up until a few weeks ago.
Hines said the law faculty members received an email from the hospice on Saturday about Baldus’ condition but he thought he might rebound again as he had good and bad days over the last year.
Gittler, who met Baldus when they were both law students at Yale in the 1960s, said he wasn’t only her friend and colleague but he’s the one who influenced her move back to Iowa and she became the first woman law professor in 1973.
“I grew up in Ames but really hadn’t thought about moving back,” Gittler said. “He talked me into it saying didn’t I remember how I enjoyed growing up here.”
Gittler said he was serious about his work and was always focused, but he loved spending time with his friends and he had a dry sense of humor and wit.
“He was just a nice man and a great human being,” she said. “I’m very sad about his passing but he had a full life.”