A Cumberland County judge has sentenced three death row inmates to life in prison without possibility for parole after finding that racial discrimination in jury selection played a key role in securing their death sentences.
Judge Gregory Weeks issued the ruling on Thursday for Tilmon Golphin, Christina Walters and Quintel Augustine after the challenged their sentences under the 2009 Racial Justice Act.
Walters was convicted of killing two women in a gang initiation ritual. Golphin was convicted of murdering two law enforcement officers at a traffic stop. Augustine was convicted of killing a Fayetteville police officer.
The judge’s ruling means that sentences for four death row inmates now have been changed to lifetime prison sentences with no possibility for parole.
"Judge: Race a factor in picking juries for death penalty cases," is the WRAL report.A North Carolina judge on Thursday commuted the sentences of three death row inmates to life in prison after finding that race played a factor in jury selection for their cases.
Lawyers for Christina "Queen" Walters, Tilmon Golphin and Quintel Augustine argued at a hearing in October that statistics and handwritten notes from prosecutors show racial bias in jury selection. Golphin and Augustine are black, while Walters is Native American.
Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks agreed with their motions for re-sentencing under the state's Racial Justice Act, saying there was overwhelming evidence of race-conscious jury selection. Notes from the trials showed that prosecutors used racially charged terms and struck qualified minorities from juries at double the rate than whites, he said.
"The court finds no joy in these conclusions," Weeks said. "Indeed, the court cannot overstate the gravity and somber nature of its findings. Nor can the court overstate the harm to African-American citizens and to the integrity of the justice system that results from racially discriminatory jury selection practices."
Earlier this year, Weeks commuted the death sentence of another inmate, Marcus Robinson, in the first test of the Racial Justice Act.
The landmark 2009 law allowed death row prisoners to use statistics to show that racial bias influenced their sentences, but the Republican-led General Assembly overrode Gov. Beverly Perdue's veto this summer to roll back much of the law. Now, statistics alone aren't enough to have a death sentence commuted, and the inmate must also introduce evidence pertinent to his or her case.
“The evidence that our capital punishment system is infected by racial bias has become too great to deny,” Kenneth Rose, senior staff attorney for the Center for Death Penalty Litigation and one of the lawyers representing the three defendants, said in a statement. “Because some of our state lawmakers don’t want to confront this reality, we will be fighting these cases for years to come. We will not rest until we are assured that race plays no role in North Carolina’s death penalty.”
Related posts are in the race category index.