State News

Judge: Race a factor in picking juries for death penalty cases

Posted December 13, 2012

— A North Carolina judge on Thursday commuted the sentences of three death row inmates to life in prison after finding that race played a factor in jury selection for their cases.

Lawyers for Christina "Queen" Walters, Tilmon Golphin and Quintel Augustine argued at a hearing in October that statistics and handwritten notes from prosecutors show racial bias in jury selection. Golphin and Augustine are black, while Walters is Native American.

Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks agreed with their motions for re-sentencing under the state's Racial Justice Act, saying there was "powerful and unmistakable" evidence of race-conscious jury selection.

"Although they have committed heinous crimes, they were sentenced to death in a process that was focused more on obtaining death sentences than it was in ensuring the process was fair," Weeks said.

Notes from the trials showed that prosecutors used racially charged terms and struck qualified minorities from juries at double the rate than whites, the judge said. He dismissed prosecutors' arguments that every choice of selecting jurors is unique and cannot be pinned on racial bias.

"The court finds no joy in these conclusions," he said. "Indeed, the court cannot overstate the gravity and somber nature of its findings, nor can the court overstate the harm to African-American citizens and to the integrity of the justice system that results from racially discriminatory jury selection practices."

The brother of Highway Patrol Trooper Ed Lowry, whom Golphin and his brother, Kevin, killed in 1997 while fleeing arrest, had to be removed from the Cumberland County courtroom after he cursed at Weeks.

Victims' families angry after inmates taken off death row Victims' families angry after inmates taken off death row

"Judge, you had your mind made up before this ever started," Al Lowry shouted. "Golphin, you'll have me to deal with if you ever get (out)."

Col. Michael Gilchrist, commander of the Highway Patrol, said troopers would try to support the Lowery family, despite the ruling.

"I am certainly disappointed that the sentence for a convicted murderer of two law enforcement officers has been set aside and that the jury's sentence will not be carried out," Gilchrist said in a statement. "Law enforcement officers don't make the laws – we support them and enforce them. It's not our place to be critical of them."

In addition to Ed Lowry, Golphin also killed a Cumberland County deputy.

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.

After the hearing, a dejected Al Lowry said North Carolina's justice system is "totally, totally broken."

"People in this state think the RJA is a good thing, (but) it's nothing but to back-door (end of) the death penalty," he said. "People need to wake up."

Earlier this year, Weeks commuted the death sentence of another inmate, Marcus Robinson, in the first test of the Racial Justice Act.

The landmark 2009 law allowed death row prisoners to use statistics to show that racial bias influenced their sentences, but the Republican-led General Assembly overrode Gov. Beverly Perdue's veto this summer to roll back much of the law. Now, statistics alone aren't enough to have a death sentence commuted, and the inmate must also introduce evidence pertinent to his or her case.

Weeks said he considered both the original and revised versions of the law in reaching his rulings and still found evidence of bias using the higher standard.

“The evidence that our capital punishment system is infected by racial bias has become too great to deny,” Kenneth Rose, senior staff attorney for the Center for Death Penalty Litigation and one of the lawyers representing the three defendants, said in a statement. “Because some of our state lawmakers don’t want to confront this reality, we will be fighting these cases for years to come. We will not rest until we are assured that race plays no role in North Carolina’s death penalty.”

Still, the families of victims said life in prison isn't enough to atone for the violent loss of their loved ones.

"We have been promised for 15 years that they would die," said Jim Davis, Ed Lowry's brother-in-law. "It hasn't happened. It isn't going to happen – not by the state's hand."

Prosecutors said they plan to appeal the rulings.

212 Comments

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  • piene2 Dec 14, 4:45 p.m.

    "The only RACIST here is the JUDGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! These people committed horrible crimes and it is for the color of their skin they get off of Death Row??????
    cantbtaught"

    It is the color of their skin their got them on death row in the first place.

  • ih8aliar Dec 14, 12:29 p.m.

    People need to understand the true meaning and motive behind the Racial (In)Justice Act (RJA). Efforts to get a conviction overturned are almost always a failure because the defendant is in fact guilty and the process was followed correctly. Only in extremely rare instances will the conviction be overturned. The RJA was enacted to “backdoor” the conviction and ultimately free the offender, which is going to happen. Once a judge, whether it be this bozo or a truly fair and impartial judge who does not harbor racist beliefs and hatred, makes a ruling that the sentence imposed by the jury was unfair and based upon a fabricated claim of racism, then the conviction, which came about by the same jury, is also unfair and based upon a fabricated claim of racism. The conviction of these three, as well as the previous defendant whose sentence was vacated by this same clown of a judge, will be overturned. Even if the RJA specifically prohibits the conviction from being overturned, that

  • piene2 Dec 14, 11:02 a.m.

    "I find it interesting that people still respond to Piene2. Obviously this person thrives on the attention his/her outlandish posts generate. The best way to handle this poster is to totally ignore him/her.
    disgusted2010"

    Thank you for reading and responding to my posts.

  • piene2 Dec 14, 10:50 a.m.

    "Piene2-so it's ok to murder babies but not convivted murderers???
    baldchip"

    I can not think of many cases of baby murders. Usually it is an abusive parent and they are tried like any other murderer. If on the other hand you are speaking of abortion, flushing some bit of tissue taken from a woman's body down the toilet is not murder because there is no human being involved. One might as well say the surgeon murdered my appendix when he removed it.

  • piene2 Dec 14, 10:44 a.m.

    "Piene2 would you rather have a state executions or have vigilaties take care of the situations...
    ThomasL"

    Well, if those are the only two choices I would prefer the vigilantes do the murder for two reasons. First we are all a part of the state and if vigilantes did the murder I wouldn't be a part of it. More importantly, anyone who would become a vigilante is as bad or worse than their victims. We can round them up and see to it that they spend the rest of their lives rotting away in prison where they belong..

  • Minarchist Dec 14, 8:56 a.m.

    I find it interesting that people still respond to Piene2. Obviously this person thrives on the attention his/her outlandish posts generate. The best way to handle this poster is to totally ignore him/her.
    disgusted2010
    December 13, 2012 7:48 p.m.
    Report abuse

    Hes kinda like FOX News huh? Saying crazy things to get people worked up.

  • same ole story Dec 14, 8:29 a.m.

    Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks agreed with their motions for re-sentencing under the state's Racial Justice Act, saying there was "powerful and unmistakable" evidence of race-conscious jury selection.

    The only RACIST here is the JUDGE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! These people committed horrible crimes and it is for the color of their skin they get off of Death Row??????

  • TWAL Dec 14, 8:24 a.m.

    These people deserve the death penalty. The jurrors were picked and done their job. The issue here is black people were dimissed because of race. Was it because of race or because of intelligence, age, gender, attitude, or how the lawyers felt about that persons answers? Just because black people were not picked as jurrors doesn't mean it's racial. If I go to have heart surgery I want the very best surgeon. I will pick who i think is the best out of the Doctors in that field. RACE WILL NOT BE A FACTOR! I am white and if i wasn't picked as a jurror and a black man was GREAT! We as NORTH CAROLINA AMERICANS SHOULD HAVE A MARCH AND SHOW OUR DISGUST WITH THIS LAW, LAWYERS,AND JUDGE.If someone more intelligent than me will start this up I will Join In. I will stand beside any race to stop this nonsense. One of these cases involved the death of a BLACK LAW OFFICER. HE WAS A BLACK MAN.

  • censorbait Dec 14, 8:10 a.m.

    I am sure that Judge Weeks astute ruling will no doubt gain the attention of our esteemed lame duck governess. She may appointed this fine piece of legal talent to the Court of Appeals unless she has already promised it to Cressie. Of course committments mean little to her. Just look at how committed she was to her previously ordered selection process.

  • atheistswillrule Dec 13, 7:51 p.m.

    If these murders do not call for the death penalty (and a couple of others over the last few years that were just as bad or worse that got life), what would? miseem

    Nothing would. We need to give up the death penalty and join the majority of nations that got rid of it years ago. Now it's just us, China, Iran and the middle eastern Muslim nations and a few banana republics in the Caribbean. Not very good company for us to keep when we are purported to be a leader of human rights. But then we are not even in the top 10 of standard of living, longevity, education or standards of health care. This is not a surprise.

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