North Carolina’s Supreme Court heard arguments about whether it should reinstate death sentences for four inmates whose punishments were reduced.
The appeal seeks to challenge the ruling of a law that allowed certain criminal defendants to challenge their sentences on the grounds 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 The law was repealed by the Republican-dominated legislature in June 2013, and the state is trying to reimpose death penalties that were overturned while it was in place.
Marcus Reymond Robinson’s case was at the center of Monday’s session. Robinson, a black man, was the first person to have his punishment reduced under the Racial Justice Act. He was convicted of kidnapping and killing a teenage boy, and claimed that racial bias had tainted the jury selection during his trial. His sentence was overturned in 2012.
Michigan State University researchers found “powerful evidence that race was a substantial factor” in prosecutors’ decisions to strike potential jurors.
The three other cases were argued as a group before the Supreme Court, and also originated in Cumberland County. The death sentences for those defendants, two black men and a Native American woman were reduced in 2012. They all were sentenced to life in prison.
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