State News

Researcher, murderer's mom cite racial bias by prosecutors

Posted January 31, 2012

— A researcher took the stand Tuesday in the state's first case involving the Racial Justice Act, discussing her findings about the dismissal of qualified black jurors in capital cases in North Carolina.

Barbara O'Brien, of Michigan State University, testified that the prosecutor in Marcus Reymond Robinson's 1994 murder trial was three times more likely to dismiss blacks during jury selection for capital cases than other races.

Attorneys are allowed to strike a certain number of potential jurors, but it cannot be because of race.

"Black is a significant predictor of state prosecutorial strike decisions, even when controlling for all other variables in our model," O'Brien said.

Prosecutors later began cross-examining O'Brien, questioning her methodology.

The testimony comes on the second day of the hearing in Fayetteville under the act, which gives death row inmates a chance to argue that racial bias played a role in their sentences.

A judge will determine whether racial bias was a factor. If so, Robinson's sentence would be commuted to life in prison without parole. The hearing is expected to last two weeks.

Researcher, murderer's mom cite racial bias Researcher, murderer's mom cite racial bias

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 mother, Shirley Burns, says she is confident the Racial Justice Act will keep her son off death row. She attended his trial 18 years ago and says she believes the prosecutor purposefully kept black people off the jury.

"I’m not going to say that (race) was the sole reason, but there were instances when race did play a part. I was there and I heard the questions that were asked," she said.

Prosecutors deny those claims.

Burns says she's not looking for vengeance, she's looking for truth.

"Statistics do not lie. The numbers are there. You know, we can talk the talk, but numbers tell the bottom line," Burns said. "It's not all about Marcus. We're making history for everyone."

Tornblom's family members wore buttons to court Tuesday that read, "Justice is color blind." His stepmother, Patricia Tornblom, said she doesn't think Robinson deserves anything "except to die."


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  • Lightfoot3 Feb 1, 2012

    “you seem to miss the point of this law” – jurydoc

    I totally understand. Even when there’s federal guidelines, our courts are still VERY subjective. That’s how we end up with murderers in one court serving less time than simple thieves (or druggies) in another. And I understand that there might be a bias as to who gets the death penalty. But I don’t care because a) they are still murderers and are fairly sentenced under our current guidelines, b) I personally think that 1st degree murderers deserve the death penalty, and c) as I said before, I consider it a more of a not enough white people getting death rather than a too many black people getting death problem. But I understand the idea behind the law.

  • randall0123a Feb 1, 2012

    If this was an appeal based on inaccurate information from the original trial, then sure, let’s get this man a new trial. If all the facts of the original trial remain correct, then this becomes a farce. This is one example of Perdue’s backwards thinking – good riddance Bev! For true equality to be achieved, we all have to become utterly color blind. So, if we want to review inmates on death row, then we need to review inmates of ALL color on death row. If you are against this murderer getting the death sentence, then fight the death penalty as a whole. Or, if you believe in the death penalty, then fight to make sure ALL cold-blooded murderers are permanently removed from society and the gene pool. Too many people are always concerned about counting – counting how many blacks to whites there are in any given situation or location. THAT, is racial bias. It would be nice if we unified as ONE nation, rather than self-segregating ourselves as hyphenated *-Americans.

  • jurydoc Feb 1, 2012

    lightfoot - you seem to miss the point of this law. The fact is that there are people who commit very similar crimes. All are charged with first degree, premeditated, deliberate murder. THEN, the DA decides who will face the death penalty, based in part on the presence or absence of evidence in support of at least one statutory aggravating circumstance. The other part of the decision on who faces the death penalty is prosecutorial discretion. It used to be if there was evidence in support of an aggravator, the DA HAD to charge capitally. That is no longer the case. It is the introduction of this discretion that opens the door WIDE for differences based on demographics.

  • randall0123a Feb 1, 2012

    "I don't care if more blacks get the death sentence than whites" - Finally you admit you don't care about equality and and justice. Thank you. Ezekielc23v19to20

    Wow, you label others as putting a spin on things, yet you conveniently edited Lightfoot3’s post to suit your needs. Because, the following sentence CLEARLY stated the problem being that convicted white murderers should also be getting the death sentence. Give it up there Zeke, your manipulation of facts is laughable. The following post has equal merit, but again, you discount it as a spin, when it is based equally on the color of skin. You make it very clear that you have a one-track mind – a closed mind.

  • kermit60 Feb 1, 2012

    Another example of the never ending power of the Race Card.

  • baron2ci Feb 1, 2012

    "As a professional researcher, when it's all said and done, you can't argue with the facts or should I say stats."

    Yes, you certainly can. There's even a book titled How to Lie with Statistics. It's quite easy to manipulate data to make them show whatever you want.

  • Lamborghini Mercy Feb 1, 2012

    As a professional researcher, when it's all said and done, you can't argue with the facts or should I say stats.

  • Lightfoot3 Feb 1, 2012

    "That's Zeke's profile, no substance only spiffy remarks. The view never changes with some, like her. One thing she doesn't ever bring up is the subject at hand." - Bartmeister

    This is a she? Hmmm... Do you know who "she" was in the prior GOLO incarnation? I can't keep up with who's who when they change their names to hide their identity. I'm wondering if it's someone that got ripped a new one during debate, hence the focus on my comments. I have noticed a pattern of insults and snide comments without any real value or substance. "She" seems to be arguing for the sake of arguing, or generating responses.

  • Lightfoot3 Feb 1, 2012

    ".....very sad." - letscare

    I make no apologies for supporting the death penalty for murderers, no matter how "very sad" you think that is. I don't consider a person's race when it comes to these things. If you did the crime, you should get the punishment, no matter what color your skin is. I don't believe in being lenient because of race, and don't think thats "very sad". Crime needs to be punished. We shouldn't ease up on one set of criminals because of race, just to strike a balance in the numbers. All should be punished even if the racial makeup is not equal. Same goes for gender.

  • scoutmomof2 Feb 1, 2012

    This man kidnapped Erik Tornblom, forced him to drive to an isolated area, shot him in the face with a sawed off shotgun. All for $27 and his car. He admitted to doing it and was tried and convicted and sentenced to death. He had convictions of other things before this. He has been in prison for all those years waiting for execution and has 103 infractions during that time, including multiples of weapons, high risk acts and fighting.

    I don't care if he is white, black, or green with purple polka dots. He did the crime and he needs to be executed.