In Landmark Ruling, Death Penalty Cancelled Because of Racial Bias
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Judge Greg Weeks (photo: James Robinson, Fayetteville Observer)
Using a new law intended to end racial discrimination in sentencing, a judge in North Carolina threw out the death sentence of an African-American man convicted of murder 18 years ago.
Judge Greg Weeks of Cumberland County Superior Court concluded that racial bias played a significant role in Marcus Reymond Robinson being placed on death row for kidnapping and killing a white 17-year-old named Erik Tornblom. Robinson’s conviction was left intact, leaving him to spend the rest of his life in prison without possibility of parole.
The landmark ruling may represent the first of many under the state’s controversial 2009 Racial Justice Act, which allows defendants and convicted murderers to present evidence, including statistical information, which suggests race played a key role in receiving capital punishment. A study of jury selection in death penalty cases in North Carolina showed that prosecutors removed blacks from juries at twice the rate of whites, and in Cumberland County it was 2.6 times the rate.
The North Carolina legislature voted to repeal the Racial Justice Act in November 2011, but Democratic Governor Bev Perdue vetoed the bill.
Of the 157 prisoners on North Carolina’s death row, nearly all of them have filed claims under the act.
-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky
To Learn More:
Bias Law Used to Move a Man Off Death Row (by Campbell Robertson, New York Times)
Judge Sides with Inmate in Racial Justice Act Ruling (by Anne Blythe, Charlotte Observer)
VICTORY! North Carolina Judge Finds Intentional Racial Discrimination in Death Penalty System (by Cassandra Stubbs, American Civil Liberties Union)
Support for Death Penalty Hits 39-Year Low (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
Report on Jury Selection Study (by Barbara O’Brien and Catherine M. Grosso, Michigan State university College o Law) (pdf)
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