Judge Vacates Three Death Sentences Under North Carolina's Racial Justice Act

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Cumberland County Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks vacated three death sentences under North Carolina's Racial Justice Act after finding that prosecutors intentionally discriminated against African Americans in selecting capital juries in three separate cases.

Christina Walters, Quintel Augustine, and Tilmon Golphin were each convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death for crimes in Cumberland County, North Carolina. Lawyers for the condemned prisoners presented evidence including statistics of jury selection patterns and prosecutors' handwritten notes from the time of the trials to show that North Carolina prosecutors illegally excluded African Americans from jury service because of their race.

Judge Weeks observed in announcing the decision yesterday morning that the evidence showed prosecutors had been trained to circumvent the constitutional ban on racially biased jury selection practices rather than to actually try to limit racial bias.

The judge considered the racial bias claims under the Racial Justice Act of 2009, which allowed death row defendants to win such claims solely based on statistical patterns, and under the 2012 version of the act, which requires more than just statistical evidence.

The law requires that courts enter a life sentence for any death row defendant who proves that race was a factor in the imposition of the death penalty. Judge Weeks earlier this year vacated Marcus Robinson's death sentence under the 2009 law after finding extensive evidence of racial bias in jury selection. The North Carolina Legislature then amended the law to make racial bias claims more difficult to prove.

EJI's Bryan Stevenson testified during the hearing in the Robinson case and in the hearing that led to yesterday's decision, about EJI's research showing that prosecutors continue to illegally block African Americans from serving on juries, despite laws and Supreme Court decisions dating back to the late 1800s.