Judge: Race played role in NC racial justice case

Convicted killer Marcus Robinson in court with his defense team

April 20, 2012 9:55:10 AM PDT
A Superior Court judge ruled Friday that race was a significant factor in the sentencing of death row inmate Marcus Robinson.

The precedent-setting ruling is the first case under a state law that lets death row prisoners challenge their sentences if they think race was a significant factor.

Robinson's lawyers argued before Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks earlier this year that race was a factor in prosecution decisions to reject potential jurors who were black.

In his ruling, Weeks found that prosecutors deliberately excluded qualified black jurors from jury service in Robinson's case.

"Fairness and reliability in the imposition of capital sentences, that is what this case is about," he said. "The defendant has met his burden of proving that race was a significant factor in decisions to exercise premptory challenges during jury selection by prosecutors."

Weeks re-sentenced Robinson to life in prison without possibility of parole.

"The Racial Justice Act will not be the end of this journey, but it is the hope of this court that we are now a the beginning of the end of the long struggle to eliminate discrimination in our system of justice," Weeks said.

North Carolina's 2009 Racial Justice Act allows death row prisoners and capital murder defendants to use statistics and other evidence to show racial bias played a significant role in prosecutors' decisions or their sentences.

North Carolina and Kentucky are the only states with laws like it.

Prosecutors said they would appeal Weeks' ruling.

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