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Report documents racism that infected trials of NC death row inmates

Be sure to check reporter Jack Brook’s story from earlier this morning for The Marshall Project about North Carolina’s broken death penalty system that, despite years of inactivity as well as the passage and repeal of a law known as the Racial Justice Act, keeps scores of people on death row – many of whom were convicted in trials tainted by racism.

This is from the introduction to “Racism Tainted Their Trials. Should They Still Be Executed? North Carolina Supreme Court hearings raise broad questions of systemic bias in the state judicial system.”:

Seven years ago, a judge ruled that prosecutors improperly excluded black jurors in the murder trial that put Marcus Robinson on death row.

Now the North Carolina Supreme Court has to decide whether that evidence of racial bias—and similar findings of systemic bias in a handful of related cases—must be taken into account in death penalty appeals.

The hearings stem from the 2013 repeal of the Racial Justice Act, a law that briefly allowed death row inmates to seek life sentences without parole if they could prove that racial bias tainted jury selection in their trials.

After Democrats passed the law in 2009, Robinson and three others won life sentences without parole.

But when pressure from prosecutors and a campaign of fear-mongering led the Republican-controlled legislature to repeal the Racial Justice Act, Robinson and the other three prisoners returned to death row.

The impending hearings, scheduled for late August, raise broad questions about the equity of North Carolina’s judicial system, said Cassandra Stubbs, executive director of the ACLU’s Capital Punishment Project, which is representing Robinson. “The importance of fairness and the integrity of the court is really on the line.”

The story goes on to detail the way potential Black jurors were systematically excluded from serving on murder trial juries. It reports that:

Researchers analyzed the jury selection process in 173 murder trials between 1990 and 2010 in North Carolina where the defendant ended up on death row. They found that prosecutors used peremptory challenges to remove qualified black jurors at twice the rate that they removed non-black jurors.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments from the four defendants later this month. Click here to read the entire story.

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