Hearing held on reworked Racial Justice Act

July 6, 2012 2:07:59 PM PDT
The first test of a scaled back Racial Justice Act began Friday with four North Carolina death row inmates seeking to have their sentences reduced to life in prison.

The law, first passed in 2009, allows appeals if racial bias at an inmate's original trial can be proven. Lawmakers scaled back the law last month, leaving nearly all the state's more than 150 death row inmates in limbo.

Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks heard from prosecutors and defense attorneys Friday in the cases of three men and one woman who want their sentences reduced. He granted a continuance until October 1 to allow both sides more time to prepare.

Weeks is the same judge who ruled that race played a role in the sentencing of Marcus Robinson in April under the original version of the Racial Justice Act. He said Robinson's 1991 trial - where he was convicted of killing a white teenager - was so tainted by the racially influenced decisions of prosecutors that he should be removed from death row. Prosecutors are appealing the sentencing decision.

Prosecutors also on Friday asked Weeks to take himself off the four new cases - saying he could be called as a witness himself. Weeks refused.

Quintel Augustine - who killed a Fayetteville police officer in 2001 - wants his sentence reduced. So does Jeffery Meyer - who stabbed an elderly couple to death in 1988. Christina Walters was a part of group convicted of killing two women in 1998 that was part of a gang initiation.

Tilman Golphin killed a state trooper and Cumberland County sheriff's deputy on Interstate 95 in 1997.

The trooper's family was in court Friday. Ed Lowry's widow said she was outraged by the proceedings.

"They were found guilty. They admitted to being guilty from their own mouth. And then to have to go through this and retry just so a lot of interesting things can come out and people can make a lot of money because they can retry the thing and they can argue. It's just ridiculous," said Dixie Davis.

The reworked law approved by lawmakers over Governor Perdue's veto allows convicts to offer statistics they think prove racial bias from a time span 10 years before a slaying and two years after a sentence. There was no time limit before.

The new law also says statistics alone cannot prove race was a significant factor in a death row inmate's conviction or sentence.

Statistics are also limited to the conduct of prosecutors near where the murder occurred, rather than anywhere in the entire state as the previous version of the law allowed.

The state's district attorneys sought the changes after complaining said the Racial Justice Act clogged up the court system and delayed the carrying out of capital punishment. Nearly all the 150-plus inmates on North Carolina's death row filed for reviews under the previous law, including white defendants convicted of killing white victims.

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