The state Supreme Court heard oral arguments Monday in two cases involving convicted murderers whose trials were scrutinized under the now-repealed Racial Justice Act. The justices may decide whether the four condemned prisoners resentenced to life in prison should have to return to death row.
Marcus Robinson, Tilmon Golphin, Quintel Augustine and Christina Walters originally were sentenced to death, but a Cumberland County judge gave them reduced sentences because he said race played unjust roles in jury selections.
The law was repealed last year. Critics of the law say it was flawed and only extended death penalty appeals further. State prosecutors Monday argued the death penalty should be reinstated in the cases.
"The lower court in some [cases] refused to hear testimony from judges who were in the courtroom at the time, the best source for detecting racial discrimination. So based upon these clearly erroneous findings, as well as errors of law, we would ask you reverse and reinstate the properly imposed death sentence," said prosecutor Danielle Elder.
But defense attorneys said race did play a role in sentencing.
"A black juror had three and a half times the chance of being struck as a non-black juror. No one should die at the hands of the state if racial discrimination played a significant role that person being charged, convicted, or receiving a sentence of death," said attorney Don Beskind.
North Carolina hasn't executed anyone since 2006 because of litigation.