Local News

Retired judges say race-bias rulings should be upheld

Posted January 13, 2014 4:27 p.m. EST
Updated January 13, 2014 5:13 p.m. EST

Death Row, Death Penalty, Execution

— Six retired judges, including three who served on the North Carolina Supreme Court, filed briefs Monday urging the state high court uphold rulings that commuted the death sentences of three inmates because of racial bias in the selection of their juries.

Tilmon Golphin, Quintel Augustine and Christina Walters were re-sentenced in December 2012 to life in prison without parole under the Racial Justice Act. The state has appealed the move.

The Racial Justice Act, which a Democratic-controlled legislature passed in 2009, allowed death row inmates to use statistical evidence of bias to challenge their sentences. The General Assembly, now controlled by Republicans, repealed the law last year.

Retired Supreme Court chief justices Jim Exum and Henry Frye, retired associate justice Willis Whichard and retired Superior Court judges Melzer Morgan, Wade Barber and Russell Walker argued in an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court that the Racial Justice Act provides key protections against racial discrimination, which are not provided by any other state or federal law currently on the books.

The state chapter of the NAACP also filed a brief on behalf of the inmates, which drew a parallel between their cases and that of the "Wilmington 10," a group of protesters who were pardoned several years ago after being wrongly convicted of burning a grocery store.

"The evidence of a racist jury selection process is just as egregious in these cases as it was in the Wilmington 10 case," said Irving Joyner, a North Carolina Central University law professor who represented the Wilmington 10 and signed the NAACP brief in the Racial Justice Act cases. "What the court has to decide is whether the state of North Carolina feels it's acceptable to execute people who have been tried by a racially biased system."

The Supreme Court hasn't set a date to hear arguments in the case. The court will hear the case of Marcus Robinson, a fourth inmate who had his death sentence commuted, separately.