Death row prisoner Marcus Robinson clearly demonstrated that racial bias had influenced his death sentence

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP)

Dear Fellow Abolitionists,

This morning in North Carolina’s first test case of its Racial Justice Act, Judge Gregory Weeks ruled that death row prisoner Marcus Robinson clearly demonstrated that racial bias had influenced his death sentence. This is a truly historic moment.

Today’s decision marks a new day for justice in North Carolina, where the legal system acknowledges the unsavory role that race plays in the decision to seek the death penalty, against whom, and for what crimes. It respects the rights of persons of all races to serve on juries.

The decision is a significant step in the right direction. And, it will save many lives. With this 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.

Read more in initial news stories here, and there is this analysis on the Huffington Post. You can watch video from the ruling here. Download the ruling and read it for yourself, here.

This decision is rather timely, especially in light of Sunday’s 25th anniversary of the McCleskey decision, and just days after the release of a new study from Duke University demonstrating the greater likelihood of all-white juries to convict defendants of color.

In McCleskey, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to provide relief from a demonstrated pattern of racial bias in death sentencing. Instead the Court said that it was up to the legislature to address the concern as a matter of public policy. In enacting the Racial Justice Act, the North Carolina General Assembly and Governor Perdue have done that, making it clear that the state of North Carolina rejects the influence of race discrimination in the administration of the death penalty.

Today’s decision is a testament to the fact that we must not allow capital punishment to force us to abandon our basic commitment to fairness. With Sunday’s anniversary of McCleskey, the juxtaposition of all of this is sweet.

The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty congratulates the broad coalition of North Carolinians who have worked so hard for this day, including the Legislative Black Caucus, the extraordinary legal team, grassroots organizers and leaders from a variety of organizations, clergy and communities of faith, and others. It has been an incredible and inspiring effort. Today you have struck a major blow for justice. Thank you!


Five North Carolina Death Row Inmates File Petitions Under North Carolina’s Historic Racial Justice Act

Updated: 17 Dec 2012, on the ACLU site:

On August 3, 2010, five North Carolina death row inmates filed claims under their state’s landmark legislation, the Racial Justice Act. The law, which passed in August 2009, requires that courts enter a life sentence for any death row defendant who proves that race was a factor in the imposition of his or her death sentence.

North Carolina’s handling of the cases will be watched closely around the country, as it is the first state to undertake a comprehensive effort to sever the historical ties between race and the death penalty. The law allows capital defendants, for the first time, to use statistical evidence to show bias in the death penalty.

Examples of Racial Bias

The cases of the five inmates are based on specific incidents of racial bias as well as statistical evidence from three new comprehensive studies of the death penalty in North Carolina.

One of the inmates, Kenneth Rouse, was sentenced to death by all white jury, which included a juror who later admitted that racial bigotry was an important factor in jury deliberation, and who said that “blacks do not care about living as much as whites do.”

In another case, death row inmate Guy LeGrande was also sentenced to death by an all-white jury after the prosecutor in his case dismissed all of the qualified African-American citizens from the jury. A witness described Mr. LeGrande at his trial as a “N—– from Wadesboro.”

Petition of Kenneth Rouse

Petition of Guy LeGrande

Statistical Studies
The claims of racial bias in these cases are supported by new, comprehensive studies of the death penalty in North Carolina by researchers from Michigan State University (MSU). These studies show:

Racial Bias in Jury Selection

The MSU study of jury selection found significant evidence that North Carolina prosecutors select juries in a racially biased manner. Prosecutors used peremptory strikes to remove qualified African-American jurors at more than twice the rate that they excluded white jurors. Of the 159 inmates now on death row in North Carolina, 31 were sentenced by all-white juries, and another 38 had only one minority on their sentencing juries.

Racial Bias in Prosecutorial Charging Decisions and Jury Sentencing

The MSU study of capital charging and sentencing found that those who kill whites are more likely to get the death penalty than those who kill blacks. The MSU study found that a defendant is 2.6 times more likely to get the death penalty if the victim is white.

Link to Article Here

North Carolina v. White – Advocates for the Wrongfully Convicted Amicus Brief in Support of Defendant Melvin White’s Racial Justice Act Motion

Information on jails in North Carolina: