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Prosecutors seek to remove black judge from Racial Justice Act case

Posted November 8, 2011

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— Cumberland County prosecutors have subpoenaed a Superior Court judge as a witness in a pending case, which would force him to withdraw as the judge hearing the case.

Defense attorneys and legal experts questioned the move Tuesday, noting that the judge is black and the case involves an appeal under the Racial Justice Act, which allows death row inmates to challenge their sentence on the grounds of racial bias.

"It appears the state is saying that, for the first case under the landmark Racial Justice Act, an experienced African-American judge is not fit to serve as the judge who makes the decision," said Ken Rose, a staff attorney for the Durham-based Center for Death Penalty Litigation.

Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks was assigned the appeal by Marcus Robinson because he is the senior resident judge in Cumberland County.

Robinson, who is black, was convicted of shooting and killing Erik Tornblom, a white man, during a 1991 robbery. He has alleged that prosecutors excluded a disproportionate number of blacks from his trial jury.

Weeks has 23 years of experience on the bench and has presided over several death penalty trials during that time. Prosecutors have indicated that they might call him to testify about their conduct in those cases.

"I've been doing this 30 years. I've never seen a judge recused for that reason," Rose said.

The Center for Death Penalty Litigation is representing Robinson in his appeal, but Rose isn't handling the case.

Fred Webb, an attorney representing Weeks in the case, said he doesn't believe a judge who is not a material witness should be called to testify.

Cumberland County prosecutors couldn't be reached Tuesday for comment.

Robinson's appeal is scheduled for next week, and Superior Court Judge Quentin Sumner will hear arguments in Nash County Thursday morning on whether Weeks should remain on the case.

Marcus Robinson, death row inmate Legal experts question move to remove judge from inmate's appeal

Irving Joyner, a law professor at North Carolina Central University, who isn't connected to Robinson's case, said he believes the subpoena is unethical.

"That's just improper, and I think it's a violation of the rules of professional responsibility for any lawyer to engage in a scheme like that," Joyner said.

Almost all of the 157 inmates on North Carolina's death row have filed appeals under the 2-year-old Racial Justice Act. Winning an appeal under the law commutes a death sentence to one of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Rose said bias played a role in many of the death sentences handed down in North Carolina.

"In so many of these cases, prosecutors disproportionately struck African-American jurors," he said.

32 Comments

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  • fayncmike Nov 9, 2011

    "What rock have you been under for the last 20 years? The defense gets all the breaks as far as information goes. If the prosecution / police don't turn everything over, and it comes out, the defendant is almost as good as free to go."

    Sir, I think it's you that have been living under a rock. Do you not read newspapers or watch the news? Incident after incident have emerged pointing out prosecution misconduct.

    "I don't care what color you are, red, green, blue, orange or majenta, if you commit a capital crime, you should be given the death penalty, AND it should be carried out!!!!!"

    Why should the state sink to the barbaric level of the criminals? Such beastly actions do not lower crime rates and cost a great deal more then a life sentence.

  • beachboater Nov 9, 2011

    "Great lengths are traveled to make sure certain evidence is shielded from defense teams that would/could exonerate the accused."

    What rock have you been under for the last 20 years? The defense gets all the breaks as far as information goes. If the prosecution / police don't turn everything over, and it comes out, the defendant is almost as good as free to go.

    It seems like everybody says hang someone when a crime is committed, but now, ohhhhh ewwwwwww it's racist. I might be wrong, but I could have sworn that the defense had the same number of exclusions that the prosecution has. But then again, that might be considered to be racial injustice.

    I don't care what color you are, red, green, blue, orange or majenta, if you commit a capital crime, you should be given the death penalty, AND it should be carried out!!!!!

  • CONUNDRUM Nov 9, 2011

    "cantstandya" I think any kind of injustice should be addressed even if its against criminals. 'Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' MLK Jr.
    So we all should be biting down to the core (of the apple) to make the justice system fair. Because its a system, when we don't fight to correct the problem it can have innocent people going to jail and letting guilty people go free. That could mean Black or White.

    I've personally been affected by the unfair justice only to have overturned last minute by a judge who saw my case for BS it was. But up to that point the police officer and DA were trying to give me no choice but pay huge fines.

  • cantstandya Nov 9, 2011

    CONUNDRUM." How many bites at the apple should a convicted criminal get,or do we just keep trying them until they get the verdict they want,or we can parole all of them and put them under house arrest at your place.

  • CONUNDRUM Nov 9, 2011

    That true, but they are not using race as a tool to do that, many are basing their claims on injustce or a failed defense,there is a difference. "cantstandya" You right, because racism is the allege cause of the injustice or failed defense. Its amazing how this country accept or ignores racism being used as tool to discriminate but don't want to accept the consequence of doing so when those discriminated against use race to get justice.

  • Scubagirl Nov 9, 2011

    I think calling this judge to testify is merely a tactic so that he CAN be removed. I don't think he SHOULD be recused from presiding over the trial-that's just crazy.

  • CONUNDRUM Nov 9, 2011

    So there going to prove they didn't discriminate against criminals by discriminating against the judge?

    Grab some popcorn because here comes another person stating the same "It's not racist we just think a non-Black person should judge over the case. I have many Black friends. I love the Blacks. Our Blacks are better than your Blacks"

    Then,

    "I'm sorry I misspoke. I meant to say its not racist if you don't hate them when you discriminate against them"

  • cantstandya Nov 9, 2011

    There are even whites trying to get re tried."ussenterp65." That true,but they are not using race as a tool to do that,many are basing their claims on injustce or a failed defense,there is a difference.

  • cantstandya Nov 9, 2011

    Many of those that advocate for justice for those who are criminals usually live in areas so distant from the very criminal element they seek to obtain special treatment for,had they had to live in those enviroments I would imagine they would have another opinion on the degree of punishment these criminals receive,gated and protected neighborhoods are not what most Americans experience,it's outside those areas that most crimes take place.

  • FE Nov 9, 2011

    "but it's generally the prosecutors who have the influence with the cops and judges to get evidence destroyed or created and planted"

    Care to cite some facts to support your statement??

    What bothers me about this entire RJA scenario is that, reading between the lines, certain folks now apparently need to be "more" guilty than other folks facing the same criminal charges. A reasonable person might see this approach as being a bit discriminatory to the non-minority persons charged with a capital crime.

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