Judge Rules Inmates Can’t Use Repealed NC Law to Get Off Death Row

— A Superior Court judge has ruled that four convicted killers must remain on death row because the state law they used to commute their sentences five years ago is no longer on the books.

The sentences for Marcus Reymond Robinson, Tilmon Golphin, Christina S. “Queen” Walters and Quintel Augustine were switched to life in prison without parole in 2012 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The law, which lawmakers enacted in 2009 but repealed four years later, allowed inmates to use statistical evidence of racial bias in jury selection and the prosecution of cases to challenge their death sentences.

The state Supreme Court reinstated all four death sentences in December 2015 and ordered new hearings in the cases, ruling that the judge who heard the cases didn’t allow the state enough time to prepare for the hearings and then combined three unrelated cases into one hearing.

The U.S. Supreme Court in October declined to hear the inmates’ appeal.

During the rehearing process, prosecutors argued that the four inmates could no longer use the Racial Justice Act because it had been repealed. But lawyers for the inmates said it would be unconstitutional to retroactively take the option away from them since they had filed their claims and obtained relief while the law was still in effect.

Judge Erwin Spainhour ruled this week that the inmates’ cases hadn’t reached what is considered to be a final judgment, so they can no longer use the Racial Justice Act to seek relief.

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.

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.