@NCCapitol

NC death penalty study author meets House members

Posted March 27, 2012

— A Michigan State University law professor says she couldn't find anything in her data other than race to explain why potential black jurors are rejected more than twice as often by prosecutors for North Carolina death penalty trials compared to whites.

Barbara O'Brien spoke Tuesday to a House committee examining how to make changes to the 2009 Racial Justice Act, which allows a judge to decide whether race played a significant factor in someone's death sentence. The judge can then reduce the sentence to life in prison.

"We observed consistently large disparities at the rate prosecutors struck black jurors in capital cases compared to their counterparts," O'Brien told lawmakers.

O'Brien testified earlier this year at Marcus Robinson's Racial Justice Act hearing in Fayetteville – the first of its kind in the state – and presented the study she co-authored examining cases involving all 173 people on death row in 2010.

A judge has yet to rule on Marcus Robinson's appeal.

Robinson, 38, who is black, said race played a role in jury selection at his trial. He was sentenced to death in Cumberland County for the 1991 murder of a white 17-year-old, Erik Tornblom, who was driven into the woods, robbed and shot in the face with a sawed-off shotgun.

Almost all of the 157 people now on North Carolina's death row have filed appeals under the Racial Justice Act, even white inmates whose victims were also white.

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Prosecutors say most of the appeals are frivolous, and they noted that the same death row data O'Brien used shows defense lawyers get rid of white jurors at a much higher rate than they strike black jurors.

"The interesting thing is, on the defense side, there's also a disparity," Jonathan Perry, an assistant district attorney in Union County, told lawmakers.

Prosecutors also argue that the law relies too much on numbers and not evidence in specific cases.

"The facts have to matter. If the facts don't matter, then really, what we're saying is just let the stats apply," Assistant Forsyth County District Attorney Mike Silver said.

Various legal challenges have put the death penalty on hold in North Carolina for almost six years.

19 Comments

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  • barbstillkickin Mar 28, 1:54 p.m.

    I still say what is the big deal it is not like we ever put them to death. Actually they get better treatment then the victims that put them there. Death row use to mean you were put to death now it just means you are not in general population. If I ever would kill a person I would ask for the death penalty then I would be able to live until old age in a little cell where no one can bother me. This is a big joke. Put them in General Population especially the ones who killed children or old ladies. Criminals do not like them much.

  • Tax Man Mar 28, 10:43 a.m.

    If you do the crime you do the time or get the death penalty - it has nothing to do with race - if these convicted murderers can prove they are innocent, fine, but if they are guilty they need to die regardless of the color of their skin or their ethnic background. Are we saying it is ok to commit murder if you are black? This law needs to be junked and the guilty need to die.

  • whatusay Mar 28, 10:01 a.m.

    fayncmike...racism doesn't only exist in NC, it's all over America. It expanded when LBJ introduced welfare, medicare, and medicaide in 1965. It grew when democrats realized they could stay in office forever if they put enough people on welfare. Women realized they could get more money from welfare if they had many children, and no husbank. These young kids grew up in poverty stricken projects and turned to crime rather than education. Besides, why work when the democrats will pay to to sit on a street corner, and give you a free cell phone to boot.

  • fayncmike Mar 28, 8:38 a.m.

    "THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR NOT GETTING THE DEATH PENALITY FOR COLD BLOODED MURDER, NO MATTER WHAT COLOR YOU ARE. YOU ARE JUST AS DEAD IF THE KILLER IS WHITE OR BLACK, OR OTHER COLOR. THIS IS A VERY POOR EXCUSE TO TRY TO GET OUT OF PAYING FOR YOUR CRIME. NORTH CAROLINA HAS A VERY POOR JUSTICE SYSTEM AND IT HAS NO ONE IN THE GOVERMENT WHO CARES. MOST OF THEM HAVE A HARD TIME STAYING OUT OF PRISON THEMSELVES, SO I GUESS THEY ARE OK WITH IT. BUT COLD BLOODED KILLING FOR NO REASON, EXCEPT THAT YOU KNOW IN N.C. YOU WILL NOT GET THE PROPER PUNISHMENT, IS NOT RIGHT. KEEP PUSHING, N.C., AFTER A WHILE YOU WILL HAVE IT, JUST LIKE THE KILLERS WANT IT, AND OUR LEADERS WILL BE HAPPY.

    rcrdngcountry"

    Shouting has never changed anything.

  • fayncmike Mar 28, 8:36 a.m.

    "A Michigan State University law professor says she couldn't find anything in her data other than race to explain why potential black jurors are rejected more than twice as often by prosecutors for North Carolina death penalty trials compared to whites.

    Barbara O'Brien spoke Tuesday to a House committee examining how to make changes to the 2009 Racial Justice Act,"

    If she was in North Carolina instead of Michigan she'd better understand the core of racial bigotry that underlines almost every facet if life in the South.

  • whatusay Mar 27, 7:07 p.m.

    This country has become too politically correct. Right is right, wrong is wrong, guilty is guilty, innocent is innocent. But, lawyers have used race to gain an advantage. Black jurors are desired when a black is on trial. White jurors are desired when a white is on trial. This country is in trouble and our constitution is becomeing more irrelevant every day.

  • crystalnelligar320 Mar 27, 4:11 p.m.

    *Less that $30 from the victim. I guess i typed too long of a comment : )

  • crystalnelligar320 Mar 27, 4:05 p.m.

    I dated the victim & went to school with him & the murderers. The guy doing life confessed that the guy who got sentenced to death (whom is the one trying to get off death row) stated before murdering this INNOCENT victim that he was going to go out & kill him a white-ey before actually going out & doing it. So.... does not get more racist than that! He deserves death, he took an innocent person's life whom was willing to give him a ride home because he asked for a ride & the victim recognized them from school. Really?! Racial bias?! This is simple... YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW! I wear a button on the court dates with the victim's picture close to my heart in hopes this guy gets what he was sentenced to years ago.

    Put yourself in the other's shoes.... your 17 year old child gets off from work & stops at convenient store & gets asked by 2 classmates for a ride. Your child gives them that ride to only have their face shot off & left in a field for someone else to find. They got less than $3

  • wayneuber Mar 27, 1:44 p.m.

    piene2,

    If racial bias is a problem in the justice system then those who engage in prejudicial behaviors should be challenged individually. Those that support the RJA have one solution (obstruct executions) or to provide wrongful sentence reductions to proven premeditated and aggravated predators using unconfirmed studies (glorified term papers) which reference unrelated cases.

    jurydoc, personal websites are NOT a substitute for scientific journals. The "work" has not be authenticated by objective and qualified scholars. A thorough review of all the data, collection methods and logic has not been performed. The results have not be replicated.

  • ncouterbanks69 Mar 27, 1:24 p.m.

    very much needed to protect minority members from the widespread racism that is rampant through the North Carolina justice system.

    Possibly the most whiney excuse ever read.

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