The scheme is based on an analysis of the circumstances and verdicts for about 600 murder cases arrested and charged with murder in Georgia between 1973 and 1978. Although these cases show immense variety, three primary dimensions appeared to distinguish those cases receiving the death sentence from those that did not. A death sentence was more likely when there was certainty that the defendant was a deliberate killer, suggesting that the threshold of certainty needed for a death sentence is greater that for a guilty verdict and that sentencers consider premeditation and intent. Death sentences also were more likely for stranger-to-stranger killings than for other victim-offender relationships. Finally, the extent to which the killing was heinous in its details influenced imposition of the death penalty. In those murders whose facts make a death sentence a serious probability, the defendant's prior record and race of the victim also appear to contribute to the sentencing decision. Results are discussed in relation to proportionality review, racial discrimination, and the relationship between sentencing behavior and stautory guidelines. Appendixes and 658 footnotes.