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September 6, 2011

First big hearing on application of NC Racial Justice Act this week in Cumberland County

As detailed in this local article, which is headlined "Tuesday hearing in Fayetteville case is first under Racial Justice Act," anyone and everyone concerned about the intersection of race and the death penalty should this week keep an eye on a courtroom in Cumberland County, North Carolina.  Here is why:

Marcus Reymond Robinson killed a teen in a robbery in 1991 and was sentenced to death in 1994.  Still on death row 17 years after his conviction, Robinson is scheduled today to be the first condemned inmate in North Carolina to present statistical evidence of racism per the new Racial Justice Act to convert his sentence to life without parole.

"It's an historical hearing," said Ken Rose, senior staff attorney at the N.C. Center for Death Penalty Litigation.  "This hearing will be about the prosecutors in Cumberland County, the prosecutors in the judicial division that Cumberland County is a part , and the prosecutors across the state.  And it will be about their use of strikes in a disproportionate way to exclude African-American jurors from service."

The Racial Justice Act, enacted two years ago, gives death row inmates the opportunity to prove that their death sentences are the product of racism in the criminal justice system. Robinson is black.  His victim, 17-year-old Erik Tornblom, was white.

According to the record, Robinson and another man conspired to rob Tornblom.  They forced Tornblom at gunpoint to drive them to a side street. Robinson shot him in the face, and then Robinson and the other man split $27 from his wallet and took his car.  The other man, Roderick Williams, is serving life in prison.

Robinson's lawyers have statistics that they say proves there is racism in the system.  They say that in cases with white victims, the defendants, regardless of race, are more likely to be sentenced to death than in cases in which none of the victims were white.  The law allows statistical trends to serve as proof of racism in the system.

In court papers, prosecutors deny that racism had anything to do with Robinson's death sentence.  Robinson's motion makes no allegation of racism in his case, wrote Assistant District Attorney Cal Colyer in a motion filed Aug. 16, and provides no evidence of it. Colyer argued that Robinson therefore is not entitled to a hearing to present evidence of racism....

Statewide, 151 out of North Carolina's 158 death row inmates have Racial Justice Act claims pending.

Some related prior posts on the North Carolina Racial Justice Act: 

September 6, 2011 at 11:22 AM | Permalink


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Wow, this is pretty disturbing. I think racism in the criminal justice system is injustice in itself and the fact that steps are being taken to curb it is laudable.

-Josh, a passer-by

Posted by: Longboard Reviews | Sep 6, 2011 3:01:02 PM

84 of the 158 convicts on NC Death Row (2010) are Black, but 151 of 158 have "Racial Justice Act" claims pending? HaHa

According to Kent Scheidegger, the population of death row was 3,173, of whom 1,317 were black. (BJS, Capital Punishment in the US, 12/31/09)
<< This is 41.5% >>

For 2009 single-offender, single-victim homicides with race known, there were 6,631 total with 3,106 black perpetrators. (Sourcebook of Criminal Stats, 12/09/09)
<< This is 46.8%. >>

Why isn't a HIGHer percentage of us 'discriminated against people of color' such as myself on death row?

Posted by: adamakis | Sep 7, 2011 3:35:05 PM

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