Judge removes three from death row

Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks
December 13, 2012 3:09:37 PM PST
Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks commuted the death sentences of three convicted murderers to life in prison Thursday - saying racial bias played a role in their trials.

The ruling under North Carolina's controversial Racial Justice Act means the three will spend the rest of their lives in prison without the possibility of parole.

The three are 34-year-old Tilmon Golphin - who killed a North Carolina State Highway Patrol trooper in 1997, 35-year-old Quintel Augustine - who shot a Fayetteville police officer in 2001, and 34-year-old Christina "Queen" Walters - the leader of a gang who killed two women and shot another in a 1998 gang initiation.

The Racial Justice Act, passed in 2009 and one of only two such statutes in the nation, allows death row inmates to present evidence that race influenced their sentencing process. Those who win their cases receive life in prison without parole.

Judge Weeks' ruling Thursday was based on evidence presented over four weeks of hearings.

Lawyers for the three had argued that statistics and handwritten notes from prosecutors showed racial bias in jury selection.

"The Court takes hope that acknowledgment of the ugly truth of race discrimination revealed by Defendants' evidence is the first step in creating a system of justice that is free from the pernicious influence of race, a system that truly lives up to our ideal of equal justice under the law," Weeks wrote in his ruling.

Weeks' decision comes as North Carolina continues to struggle with the fairness of its capital punishment system. No one has been executed in six years because of concerns about the system, and this year, for the first time in 35 years, North Carolina juries did not hand down a single new death sentence.

Earlier this year, another inmate became the first to have his sentence commuted to life without parole under the provisions of the 2009 law, which legislators made more restrictive this year.

Responding to the ruling Thursday, North Carolina Highway Patrol Colonel Michael Gilchrist said he was disappointed that the sentences for two convicted of killing law enforcement officers won't be carried out.

"Law enforcement officers don't make the laws, we support them and enforce them, it's not our place to be critical of them," he offered. "It is important that we support the law enforcement officers who protect us and support their families as well and that's what we are doing."

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