Ruling: Four convicted killers must again make case for racial bias

— The North Carolina Supreme Court on Friday vacated the orders that moved four convicted killers off death row and ordered new hearings in their cases.

Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks in 2012 commuted the sentences for Marcus Reymond Robinson, Tilmon Golphin, Christina S. “Queen” Walters and Quintel Augustine to life in prison without parole under the Racial Justice Act.

The law, which lawmakers enacted in 2009 but repealed four years later, allowed inmates to use statistical evidence of racial bias to challenge their death sentences.

The Supreme Court said Weeks made two errors in the cases: He didn’t allow the state enough time to prepare for the hearings, and he combined three unrelated cases in one hearing.

But lawyers for the inmates noted that the ruling didn’t alter Weeks’ findings of racial bias in jury selection in the four cases.

“We are confident that, no matter how many hearings are held or studies completed, we will win this case. The evidence of racial bias in jury selection is simply overwhelming and undeniable,” defense attorney Jay Ferguson said in a statement. “All this decision will do is add more delays and cost the state millions to conduct new studies and hold new hearings. We will be throwing more taxpayer money into a hopelessly broken death penalty.

“As a state, we cannot ignore this troubling evidence that racial bias infects the death penalty from the very beginning of the process. When we cannot even choose the jury fairly, we surely cannot ensure fair trials and outcomes for defendants facing execution,” Ferguson said.

Golphin and his brother killed a State Highway Patrol trooper and a Cumberland County deputy in 1997, Augustine was convicted of murdering a Fayetteville police officer in 2001, Robinson killed a Fayetteville teen in 1991 and Walters was found guilty of kidnapping three girls and killing two of them in 1998 in a gang-initiation ritual.

The Supreme Court encouraged both sides to present additional statistical studies when the cases are heard again.

The Cumberland County District Attorney’s Office declined to comment on the ruling.

The decision will keep executions on hold indefinitely in North Carolina. The last execution in the state came in 2006, as questions raised by the Racial Justice Act and legal disputes over a physician’s role in executions and the protocol the state uses to carry out lethal injections have bogged down capital punishment since then.

,The North Carolina Supreme Court on Friday vacated the orders that moved four convicted killers off death row and ordered new hearings in their cases.

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