"Appeal to Return 4 to Death Row Is Heard," by Alan Blinder for the New York Times.
The North Carolina Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments about whether it should reinstate death sentences for four inmates whose punishments were reduced under a law that allowed certain criminal defendants to challenge their sentences by raising claims of racial bias in their prosecutions.
The two arguments before the elected court were the latest chapter in a legal and political drama that has played out since 2009, when the state’s Racial Justice Act was signed into law, creating a path for new court challenges by scores of inmates awaiting execution. The law was repealed by the Republican-dominated legislature in June 2013, and the state is trying to reimpose death penalties that were overturned while it was in place.
The centerpiece of the session on Monday in Raleigh, the capital, was the case of Marcus Reymond Robinson, a black man who was the first person to have his punishment reduced under the Racial Justice Act.
The News & Observer reports, "NC Supreme Court hears arguments in Racial Justice Act cases," by Anne Blythe.
The arguments came almost two years after a Cumberland County judge issued the first ruling associated with the short-lived Racial Justice Act, a 2009 law that was overturned last year.
The law allowed judges to consider statistics among other evidence when weighing inmate claims that race-based decisions played a role in the cases brought against them.
In 2012, Judge Gregory Weeks found that a pervasive racial bias had played a role in the cases of Marcus Robinson, Tilmon Golphin, Quintel Augustine and Christina Walters, four convicted killers who were sentenced to death.
Weeks weighed testimony and statistics from a Michigan State University College of Law study of North Carolina capital cases in all four cases and found “a wealth of evidence showing the persistent, pervasive, and distorting role of race in jury selection throughout North Carolina.”
On Monday, the N.C. Supreme Court justices heard arguments in the first four cases decided under two versions of the law — the original 2009 law and an amended version adopted in 2012.
"NC high court holds hearings on Racial Justice Act," is the AP coverage, via the Salisbury Post.
North Carolina’s highest court will determine whether a lower-court judge erred when he ruled that racism was so pervasive in the trials of four convicted murderers that their sentences had to be changed from death to life behind bars without parole.
The state Supreme Court held two hearings Monday on the Racial Justice Act, the first involving Marcus Robinson and the 2009 version of the law. The second hearing involved three convicted murderers whose cases weren’t related and whose sentences were changed based on the amended 2012 law.
"Commutations Under Racial Justice Act Being Reviewed by NC Supreme Court," by Danny Hooley for Chapelboro.com
The North Carolina Supreme Court is considering whether four convicted murderers whose death sentences were commuted under the Racial Justice Act will have to return to death row, now that the Act has been repealed.
Joe Hackney says there are even bigger issues at stake.
“What we did in passing the Racial Justice Act was not to say that there was anything definitive that we knew,” he says. “But we gave defendants an opportunity to show that there was racial bias in the system.”
Hackney, now a practicing attorney in Chapel Hill, retired from the North Carolina House of Representatives in 2012.
Hackney was still the Democratic Speaker of the House when the Racial Justice Act was passed in 2009. The law allowed convicted murderers to have their sentences commuted to life without parole if they could prove racial bias was involved in sentencing.
“You know, we use statistics to prove all kids of things in a court of law,” he says. “Employment discrimination, among other things. And I thought it should be tested according to the legal principles that would be applicable to it. And it was tested, and the judge found that it was solid, and entered an order based on it.”
Earlier coverage from North Carolina begins at the link.