Judge steps aside in Racial Justice Act appeals
Posted June 9
Fayetteville, N.C. — A Superior Court judge agreed Thursday to allow another judge to hear the appeals of four convicted killers in their renewed bid to get off death row.
Judge Jim Ammons was upset that defense attorneys questioned his impartiality – "I have lived a lifetime in the law," he said – and he refused to formally recuse himself. But he said he would ask the state Administrative Office of the Courts to assign a new judge to the case.
"I will not allow my properly presiding over any of these cases to continue to be an issue when the court’s true task should be determining the merits of these claims," Ammons said.
The death sentences of Marcus Robinson, Christina "Queen" Walters, Tilmon Golphin and Quintel Augustine were commuted to life in prison without parole in 2012 under the state's Racial Justice Act, which allowed death row inmates to use statistical evidence of racial bias in court proceedings to challenge their sentences.
The North Carolina Supreme Court last year reinstated the death sentences for all four, ruling that retired Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks made a mistake when he combined three unrelated cases into one hearing and didn't give state attorneys enough time to prepare.
Ammons, a former prosecutor, was appointed to hear the cases a second time, but defense attorneys pushed to get him removed.
"All we’ve ever asked for is a judge that has no ties to the Cumberland County prosecutor's office to resolve this case, and that’s what we got," said Jay Ferguson, a lawyer for Golphin. "All the evidence of racial bias that was uncovered in the last hearing is not going to change and will be presented again to the new judge."
State lawmakers repealed the Racial Justice Act in 2013, but the appeals will be handled as if the law were still in place.
Al Lowry, whose brother was one of two lawmen killed by Golphin and his brother in 1997, said he is tired of the repeated delays in carrying out the death sentence.
"The decision's been made for the death penalty, and we’ve been 19 years and counting. Nothing ought to take this long," Lowry said. "No matter what judge they select, its always going to be an excuse on their side."
Augustine was convicted of murdering a Fayetteville police officer in 2001, while Walters was found guilty of kidnapping three girls and killing two of them in 1998 in a gang-initiation ritual. Robinson, who became the first death row inmate to successfully challenge his sentence under the Racial Justice Act, killed a Fayetteville teen in 1991.