State News

Judge expected to rule Friday in NC racial justice case

Posted April 20, 2012 4:02 a.m. EDT
Updated April 20, 2012 9:48 a.m. EDT

— A North Carolina judge is expected to issue a precedent-setting ruling on Friday in the first case under a state law that lets death row prisoners use statistical evidence to argue racial bias played a role in their sentences. 

Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks is expected to announce his ruling in the case of Marcus Robinson, a 38-year-old man who was sentenced to death in Cumberland County for the 1991 murder of 17-year-old Erik Tornblom, around 10 a.m. Friday in Fayetteville.

(Watch Judge Weeks' ruling on beginning at 10 a.m.)

Robinson's lawyers argued in February that race was a factor in prosecution decisions to reject potential jurors who were black. His defense team cites a Michigan State University study that concluded black jurors were more likely to be dismissed that white jurors. 

The study also found that a defendant in North Carolina is 2.6 times more likely to be sentenced to death if at least one of the victims is white.

John Dickson, a former assistant district attorney in Cumberland County who was a prosecutor in Robinson's case, said in February that race "in no way, shape or form" played a role in jury selection. 

If Weeks agrees on Friday that racial bias played a role in the case, Robinson would be re-sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

State lawmakers tried last year to roll back the Racial Justice Act, but Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed the effort and an override vote fell short. A House committee is now looking at ways to narrow the scope of the law.