Judge: Race played role in death-row case


Associated Press

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C.

A condemned killer’s trial was so tainted by the racially influenced decisions of prosecutors that he should be removed from death row and serve a life sentence, a judge ruled Friday in a precedent-setting North Carolina decision.

Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks’ decision in the case of Marcus Robinson comes in the first test of a 2009 state law that allows death-row prisoners and capital-murder defendants to challenge their sentences or prosecutors’ decisions with statistics and other evidence beyond documents or witness testimony.

Only Kentucky has a law like North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act, which says the prisoner’s sentence is reduced to life in prison without parole if the claim is successful.

Race played a “persistent, pervasive and distorting role” in jury selection and couldn’t be explained other than that “prosecutors have intentionally discriminated” against Robinson and other capital defendants statewide, Judge Weeks said. Prosecutors eliminated black jurors more than twice as often as white jurors, according to a study by two Michigan State University law professors that Judge Weeks said he found highly reliable.

Robinson’s case is the first of more than 150 pending cases to get an evidentiary hearing before a judge.

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