North Carolina Case Challenges Racial Bias in Sentencing

Attorneys of Marcus Robinson say that prosecutors disqualified a disproportionate number of Black jurors during their client’s trial.

A judge has denied a bid by prosecutors to further delay the start of the first hearing under North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act that was set to begin Monday.

Over the past six months, prosecutors have been granted delays, and on Monday morning, Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks denied a request for eight more weeks.

The act allows inmates sentenced to death to argue that race was a factor in their sentencing. If their argument wins, their death sentences will be converted to life in prison.

Monday’s scheduled hearing involved Marcus Robinson, an African-American inmate sentenced to death for the 1991 murder of Erik Torblom. His attorneys say that during Robinson’s trial, prosecutors disqualified a disproportionate number of Black jurors.

"It's to the credit of the state of North Carolina that we're willing to take a very open, searching look at potential race discrimination against African-Americans," Ken Rose, a staff attorney at the Center for Death Penalty Litigation, told a local newspaper.

In North Carolina there are 159 people on Death Row; 31 were sentenced by all-white juries.

A few months ago, the Equal Justice Initiative filed a lawsuit claiming that for years, an Alabama District Attorney purposely prohibited qualified African-Americans from serving on juries in serious felony cases, especially those considering the death penalty. Additionally, inmates across the country are arguing for new trials, using similar reasoning.

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