by Bob Geary
[Update 2, 6:30 p.m.: The NAACP's William Barber issued an eloquent statement late this afternoon on the importance of this decision as a strike against the fallacy that racial bias in capital cases is "inevitable" and there's nothing to be done. I copied it into a second post you can read here.]
[Update 1: People of Faith Against the Death Penalty called the outcome a huge victory for justice. I've added their statement below.]
Judge Gregory Weeks ruled that prosecutors in North Carolina capital murder cases intentionally discriminated against eligible black jurors in the period 1990-2010, producing racial bias in cases where black defendants were convicted and sentenced to death — rather than receiving a life sentence. The statistical evidence of bias was valid and inexplicable except as the intentional result of prosecutors not wanting black jurors, the judge said. Further, the explanations of prosecutors in rebuttal not only didn't rebut the statistical evidence; some of what they said was so unbelievable that it tended to reinforce, for him, the fact that bias was present.
From the Center:
April 20, 2012 Ruling on Lead NC Racial Justice Act Case
· The lead case applying the historic and ground-breaking NC Racial Justice Act (RJA) concluded today with a judicial finding of race discrimination in the operation of the death penalty in North Carolina.
· North Carolina Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks found that prosecutors deliberately excluded qualified black jurors from jury service in death row inmate Marcus Robinson’s case, in Cumberland County, and throughout the state.
· As directed by the law, the Court stated that parole eligibility was not an option under the Racial Justice Act, and resentenced Marcus Robinson to life imprisonment without possibility of parole.
· In enacting the RJA, the North Carolina General Assembly and Governor Perdue made clear that the state of North Carolina rejects the influence of race discrimination in the administration of the death penalty. The RJA represents a landmark reform in North Carolina, a state which has long been a leader in forward-thinking criminal justice policies.
· With today’s ruling, North Carolina continues its leading role as a state willing to honestly and fairly examine the affect of race in its criminal justice system.
· A Michigan State University study of jury selection practices in North Carolina capital cases between 1990 and 2010 was introduced as evidence in the hearing. Judge Weeks found it to be a valid, highly reliable, statistical study. The results of the study, with remarkable consistency across time and jurisdictions, show that race is highly correlated with decisions on striking jurors in North Carolina.
· The ruling and the findings of the MSU study are consistent with every major study of jury selection in capital cases done in the United States.
· Following this ruling, the NC Racial Justice Act allows for a fresh start by permitting prosecutors to remedy race discrimination through in depth training programs.
· This decision marks a new day for justice in North Carolina where the justice system acknowledges past discrimination and respects the rights of persons of all races to serve on juries.
FAYETTEVILLE, NC — Today's decision in a North Carolina courtroom marks a huge victory for justice, for the people of North Carolina, for the South and the country as a whole.
Judge Gregory Weeks has ruled under the NC Racial Justice Act that death row prisoner Marcus Robinson succeeded in showing that racial bias had influenced his death sentence. The RJA is the country's only law that allows judges to consider statistics when determining whether racial bias affected capital cases.
"Jim Crow never died," said Stephen Dear, executive director of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty. "He just put on a suit and a robe and prosecuted and tried death penalty cases for decades. That changed today."
The existence of the Racial Justice Act and the ruling by Judge Weeks today amount to a historic acknowledgement that race influences our courts.
Race and geography — if the case is in a former Confederate state — have remained the greatest predictors of who gets the death penalty in the United States. Southern juries and the prosecutors who routinely bar black jurors from serving on capital juries have clearly valued the lives of white victims more than the lives of non-white victims.
If the movement to abolish the death penalty is one of the outgrowths of the civil rights movement, than today's victory is another important step for civil and human rights in America. As has been said many times, the American courtroom is the place in America least affected by the civil rights movement.
Judge Weeks decision today amounts to an admission that the legacies of Jim Crow, of lynchings, and of slavery have persisted and must be dealt with honestly.
This historic victory for justice would not have come about if not for the courage and persistence of ordinary North Carolina citizens who challenged these legacies of discrimination and demanded passage of the RJA.
People of Faith Against the Death Penalty mobilized 50,000 North Carolinians to sign petitions calling for a moratorium on executions and reforms such as the RJA. PFADP organized more than 1,000 NC congregations, local governments, businesses and community groups to pass resolutions. PFADP generated endorsements for the RJA by 700 religious leaders. PFADP sponsored community forums and press conferences across the state. PFADP will continue to work in coalition with groups across North Carolina to maintain support for this important law.
The RJA has so far withstood numerous attempts to repeal it. These attempts to send us back in time to Old South justice will not stop any time soon.
Sunday will mark the 25th anniversary of the dreaded McCleskey v. Kemp 1987 Supreme Court decision that allowed these legacies of racism and discrimination to persist in capital cases. PFADP urges all North Carolinians to continue to work to make North Carolina and the country hold fast to a new sense of justice and fairness.
People of Faith Against the Death Penalty is a national nonprofit organization founded in 1994 and based in Carrboro, NC.