For Immediate Release:
December 18, 2015
RALEIGH — Today, the N.C. Supreme Court ordered new hearings in four Racial Justice Act cases because of legal technicalities, but did not overturn the key findings of these groundbreaking cases: that African-Americans have been systematically excluded from serving on capital juries, producing unfair outcomes for defendants on trial for their lives.
The court said the state deserved more time to review the findings of a comprehensive statistical study presented by defendants, which looked at hundreds of capital cases from 1990-2010 and found that prosecutors used peremptory strikes to remove qualified black jurors at more than twice the rate of white jurors. In the second case, where three defendants’ claims were heard jointly, the court also said the three cases should have been heard separately.
The Supreme Court encouraged both sides to present additional statistical studies. The decision will keep executions on hold indefinitely in North Carolina, where the courts have stayed all executions until Racial Justice Act litigation is resolved.
“We are confident that, no matter how many hearings are held or studies completed, we will win this case. The evidence of racial bias in jury selection is simply overwhelming and undeniable,” said Jay Ferguson, attorney for the defendants. “All this decision will do is add more delays and cost the state millions to conduct new studies and hold new hearings. We will be throwing more taxpayer money into a hopelessly broken death penalty.”
The four defendants whose cases were decided today — Marcus Robinson, Quintel Augustine, Christina Walters, and Tilmon Golphin — were all removed from death row and resentenced to life without parole by Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks in 2012. Weeks wrote in his ruling that he found “a wealth of evidence showing the persistent, pervasive, and distorting role of race in jury selection throughout North Carolina.”
“The powerful evidence that Judge Weeks found still stands,” said Ferguson. “Nothing the Supreme Court did today challenges that in any way. As a state, we cannot ignore this troubling evidence that racial bias infects the death penalty from the very beginning of the process. When we cannot even choose the jury fairly, we surely cannot ensure fair trials and outcomes for defendants facing execution.”