FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — The first appeal under the state's Racial Justice Act, which allows death row prisoners a chance to argue that race was a significant factor in their case, went before a judge in Fayetteville Monday.
Marcus Robinson, 38, was sentenced to death in Cumberland County for the 1991 murder of Erik Tornblom, 17, who was driven into the woods, robbed and shot in the face with a sawed-off shotgun.
Robinson's attorneys say race was a factor in jury selection, which included nine whites, two blacks and one American Indian. Death penalty opponents say the prosecutors who won Robinson's conviction in 1994 dismissed qualified black jurors more than three times the rate of white jurors.
Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks has set aside two weeks to hear the case.
Tornblom's stepmother, Patricia Tornblom, said she doesn't think Robinson deserves anything "except to die."
"What he did was horrible, horrible," she said. "I hope to see him put to sleep."
Almost all of the 157 inmates on North Carolina's death row have filed appeals under the 2-year-old law. Winning an appeal under the law commutes a death sentence to one of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
It was unclear in the fall if Weeks would be allowed to preside over the case after prosecutors attempted to call him as a witness. They said it would help refute the statistics and evidence showing racial bias during jury selection.
Robinson's lawyers said it was a power play prosecutors used to try and remove Weeks, who is black, from the case.
In November, Superior Court Judge Quentin Sumner ruled that prosecutors failed to show that Weeks was a necessary witness for their case, quashing a subpoena to have him testify.
Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed a bill in December that would have essentially repealed the Racial Justice Act, saying it is essential the legal process isn't tarnished by prejudice.
Perdue signed the Racial Justice Act into law shortly after taking office in 2009. North Carolina and Kentucky are the only states in the country with these types of laws.