State News

NC judge weighs death row inmate's racial claims

Posted January 30, 2012
Updated January 31, 2012

— 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. Marcus Robinson, death row inmate Murderer argues sentence is unfair

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 Bev Perdue vetoed a bill in December that would have essentially repealed the Racial Justice Act, saying it is essential the legal process isn't tarnished by prejudice.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.

228 Comments

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  • scoutmomof2 Jan 31, 3:09 p.m.

    10/30/2006 - The Supreme Court of the United States denied Robinson's petition to review the decision of the Fourth Circuit of Appeals, dismissing his appeal.

    This guy has already exhausted his appeals. He admitted to what he did, he has 103 infractions while in prison. Meanwhile this drags on for the victim's family. Enough already, use old sparky or drugs, I don't care if he is white, black or red with purple polka dots. Carry out the sentence.

  • kmanc4s Jan 31, 1:40 p.m.

    The entire racial justice law is a way to negate the death penalty. The cases don't determine innocence of the crime, just changes the sentence and is a drain on the taxpayers. Abolish the death penalty which carries many levels of mandatory appeals, where life in prison without parole does not. Either way criminals like this never see freedom again.

  • bhappy Jan 31, 12:51 p.m.

    Steve Austin, the six million dollar man?

    shouldn't that be 1 in a six million man? you can't rehad these people

  • DickHefner Jan 31, 12:46 p.m.

    Execute him. If he didn't do it or if he is truly sorry for committing this crime let God have mercy on him. Not us. Better to be in heaven sooner rather than later and to have been wrongfully snuffed than to be in prison for life.

  • DickHefner Jan 31, 12:43 p.m.

    Another plain old stupid move. It really doesn't seem to matter is someone commits a crime. It only matters if they were of a certain color and can get special privileges to try and get out of it. Is there really a reasonable doubt that this man committed this crime? What's wrong with this country is we don't have the guts to make it a better place by erasing the junk. Sure its a shame when an innocent person is convicted, but FAR too many guilty people are found innocent to protect wrongful conviction and it just isn't in the best interest of law abiding citizens. We continue to suffer through paying high taxes to house, feed and entertain criminals that should be erased from the face of the earth not left to influence the next generation of criminals.

  • WooHoo2You Jan 31, 12:09 p.m.

    You don't rehab these prisoners. They go to prison and get bigger,stronger and faster.- devilpride2012

    Steve Austin, the six million dollar man?

  • liberalsareweak Jan 31, 11:45 a.m.

    He was convicted and has had 103 recorded infractions in prison over the years including 4 or 5 in the last 12 months (those included weapon possession and fighting). In viewing the list of infractions there is no sign that he has learned any lessons.

    You don't rehab these prisoners. They go to prison and get bigger,stronger and faster. They learn how to become a better criminal. They meet other criminals and become a gang. If these people can't make it in society without acting the way they are suppose to act they don't deserve to be here. Hook the electricity to them and lets move on.I live by a set of guidelines and laws. Wasn't born of privilege.But I went in the military and made something of my life. All these criminal could have done the same thing. Black,white,red or yellow. Met alot of under privilege PEOPLE while I was in and are still friends with them. Most depended on the gov't there entire life why not pay back all the free stuff you get and join the military.

  • liberalsareweak Jan 31, 11:34 a.m.

    Just let 'em all go. Then the taxpayer can save millions of $$$$$.

    I agree. Let them go and when they break in my house I will issue punishment with Mr Smith Wesson.

  • edwh14 Jan 31, 11:14 a.m.

    Just let 'em all go. Then the taxpayer can save millions of $$$$$.

  • robjustrob Jan 31, 11:13 a.m.

    Seems to me the prosecution should be able to strike down a verdict if the jury was racially weighted in favor of the defendant. More than likely you got some racial bias there, not to mention the crime sounds like a hate crime to me. Or didn't the victim understand the defendant's rage?

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