The measure was passed by the North Carolina General Assembly and signed into law last year. Those who have already been convicted must file a claim by August 10. The law also has an impact on current and future trials.
The News & Observer reports, "Five death row inmates seek new sentences, claim racial bias." It's written by Sarah Ovaska and Anne Blythe.
Five death row inmates filed motions this morning challenging their death sentences on the basis of racial bias, the first test of a ground-breaking law passed last year by the state legislature that allows inmates to challenge their sentences on the basis of race.
All five inmates -- Kenneth Rouse in Randolph County, Guy LeGrande in Stanly County, Shawn Bonnett in Martin County, Jeremy Murrell in Forsyth County, and Jathiyah Al-Bayyinah of Davie County -- are black men convicted of killing white victims. Rouse and LeGrande had all-white juries sentence them to death.
The 159 prisoners on North Carolina's death row must make such claims by Aug. 10, the day before the anniversary of the signing of the Racial Justice Act law. Adopted over the objections of prosecutors, some law enforcement organizations and victims rights advocates, the law is designed to combat racial disparities in death sentences and is one of only two of its kind in the country.
Michael Hewlett writes, "5 inmates want off of death row," for the Winston-Salem Journal.
North Carolina's year-old Racial Justice Act is getting its first test, with five death-row inmates filing motions yesterday, arguing that racial bias influenced their sentencing.
Attorneys for the five filed the motions in Forsyth, Davie, Martin, Randolph and Union counties. The inmates are asking to have their death sentences converted to life in prison without parole. The filings were announced by the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, a nonprofit law firm in Durham that represents death-row inmates.
In the motions, the inmates -- who are all black and whose victims were white -- argue that prosecutors improperly used pre-emptory challenges to create all-white or mostly white juries. That, they say, was a form of racial bias that helped put them on death row.
In his motion filed under the Racial Justice Act, Murrell alleges that prosecutors eliminated 80 percent of qualified black jurors and 26 percent of qualified white jurors, but O'Neill said that out of the 16 jurors he and Martin eliminated, 12 were white and four were black. The jury foreman in that case was black, O'Neill said.
The motions use the results of a new study of the death penalty that showed that out of the 159 people on death row in North Carolina, 31 of them had all-white juries and 38 had only one person of color on their jury. The study, done by two law professors at Michigan State University, also showed that a defendant is 2.6 times more likely to be sentenced to death if at least one of the victims is white.
A study released late last month showed similar racial disparities. That study was done by Michael Radelet, a professor of sociology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and Glenn Pierce, a research scientist in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Northeastern University in Boston. The two men said in their study that the odds of getting the death penalty increase by 2.96 times for defendants charged with killing white victims.
"Attorneys ask to consolidate inmates' cases, is also by Hewlett's for the Journal.
Attorneys for three of the five death-row inmates filing motions under the state's Racial Justice Act are asking the N.C. Supreme Court to consolidate the cases to save money and court time.
The Charlotte Post has, "Death penalty goes on trial," by Herbert L. White.
The Racial Justice Act, signed by Gov. Bev Perdue last year, gives defendants the right to challenge their conviction or sentence based on racial bias.
“Race still plays a part in determining who lives and dies in our justice system, and that is unacceptable,” said Malcolm Hunter, executive director of the Durham-based Center for Death Penalty Litigation. “We are proud that North Carolina is honestly confronting this legacy of injustice.”
North Carolina is the first state to pass a law that allows defendants to use statistical evidence to prove racial bias in reaching a death sentence. Death row inmates have until August 10 to file claims.