RALEIGH Marcus Reymond Robinson, the first of North Carolinas death row inmates to have his sentence converted under the short-lived Racial Justice Act, could be part of yet another chapter in the states legal history.
Lawyers associated with Robinsons case are preparing for arguments this fall before the N.C. Supreme Court, as the 40-year-old convicted murderer spends his days and nights in Morrison Correctional Institution, a Richmond County medium-security prison about 80 miles from Central Prisons death row.
Robinsons case will be the first tested in the states highest court, and a flurry of briefs associated with the inmates predicament were filed at the close of business on Friday.
Prosecutors are challenging a Cumberland County judges 2012 decision converting Robinsons death sentence to life in prison without possibility for parole. However, a host of others have sought the courts permission to stand with the defendant.
Among those who support upholding Judge Gregory Weeks 2012 landmark ruling are former senior military officials, families of murder victims from across North Carolina, potential jurors who contend they were denied a voice in capital decision-making because of their race, professors and social scientists, and the N.C. Advocates for Justice, a nonprofit, nonpartisan association.
In 2009, the North Carolina General Assembly adopted the Racial Justice Act in a historic vote along partisan lines. The law, the only one of its kind in the country, provided an avenue for inmates and people accused in capital cases to use statistics to bolster claims of racial bias.
The law, which has led to the conversion of death sentences for four death row inmates, was weakened in 2012 by the N.C. General Assembly two years after Republicans gained control of both chambers. It was overturned this year with Republicans also in control in the governors office.
But Robinsons case in the state Supreme Court could have an impact on the applicability of the short-lived law to racial-bias challenges that were filed under the old law but not heard in the courts before the repeal.
In April 2012, Judge Weeks found that Robinson introduced a wealth of evidence showing the persistent, pervasive, and distorting role of race in jury selection throughout North Carolina. His findings came after a 13-day hearing in which attorneys presented evidence, including statistical patterns, suggesting that race played a major role in Robinsons death sentence.
Prosecutors contend that no such racial bias occurred.
In a brief filed Friday, Robinsons attorneys contend the hearing before Weeks was fair and free from error.
Jay Ferguson, one of the attorneys who represented Robinson at the hearing, said Monday: People who support justice in capital sentencing realize that this is a very important case.
Judge Weeks found clear evidence of discrimination in jury selection across North Carolina, which casts serious doubt on the integrity of our capital punishment system. The question before the N.C. Supreme Court is: Will North Carolina allow racially biased death sentences to stand?
The states highest court, in deciding to hear the case, took an unusual step by inviting interested parties to speak on both sides in amici briefs, documents filed by people not directly related to the case under consideration.
Cumberland County prosecutors initially challenged the Weeks ruling, but in June 2013, after the General Assembly repealed the Racial Justice Act, they asked for the state attorney generals office to shepherd the challenge.
The attorney generals office filed a document announcing its presence with the prosecutors in the case.
Lawyers representing Robinson contend that no matter how the state Supreme Court rules, that law does not allow for Robinson to be returned to death row.
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