The death of the Racial Justice Act

Jul. 06, 2013 @ 02:43 PM

In 2009 the N.C. Legislature passed the "Racial Justice Act" (RJA), which deals with death sentences.  It was amended in 2012.   It states, among other things, that a death sentence will be set aside and replaced by a sentence of life without parole if the defendant proves that race is a significant factor in the use of peremptory strikes by the district attorney, either in the county or the prosecutorial district.  Statistics are to be used to prove bias; however, statistics alone are not sufficient.  There must be other evidence of bias as well.

In 1991, in Cumberland County, Marcus Robinson murdered a 17-year old boy.  It was a heinous crime. The jury imposed the death penalty. 

Robinson filed a motion alleging racial bias in the use of peremptory challenges by prosecutors.  He asked to have his sentence changed from death to life without parole.

There was a hearing on his motion.  The judge agreed with the defendant, Robinson's death sentence was struck and a sentence of life without parole was substituted.    

In 1997, Tilmon Golphin killed a State Highway Patrol trooper and a Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy at a traffic stop.   In 1998, Christina Walters led a gang, killed two women and shot another woman.   In 2001, Quintel Augustine killed a Fayetteville police officer.  All three defendants were given the death penalty.

The above three defendants filed similar motions as in the Robinson case, and again Weeks agreed with the defendants and set aside the death sentences and substituted life without parole.    

The RJA has been repealed.

This will not mean that executions in North Carolina will resume.  First, all those that have filed under the RJA will argue that the repeal is only for cases hereafter.  This may cause considerable litigation and multiple appeals.  In short, litigation will increase, not decrease.  The frustration surrounding the RJA continues on.

In addition, there are still unresolved issues as to the execution procedure.

A review of the criminal records of those on death row (as shown on the DOC web page) reveals that the four defendants cited above, who received the benefit of the RJA, have serious criminal records.  

Marcus Robinson has been convicted of 19 crimes, including kidnaping, armed robbery, three charges of assault with a deadly weapon and possession of a weapon of mass destruction.   Since being on death row he has been charged with 107 infractions. 

Tilmon Golphin has been convicted of receiving a stolen vehicle, shooting into occupied property, assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to kill and two robberies..  His 21 infractions while in prison include three sexual acts, fighting and involvement with a gang. 

Christina Walters’s record shows 16 very serious offenses, including several murders, three counts of kidnapping, four counts of robbery, attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury.  She has seven infractions.   

Quintel Augustine has been convicted of 6 offenses, including two counts of possession of firearm by felon, breaking and entering and larceny after breaking and entering.  He has 36 infractions, including eight sexual acts, assaulting staff, involvement with a gang, escape and rioting.

Some other prisoners on death row have no criminal record at all except the conviction of murder.   Yet the above four defendants have been removed from death row – and the others remain.

Those favoring the RJA feel their efforts have not been in vain.  No doubt the state’s district attorneys will try death row cases with more care hereafter.  Yet the result -- four  prisoners with terrible records  released from death row, and all the other prisoners, together with the victims, the DAs, the families of the prisoners in limbo – is unfortunate.

It takes great wisdom and cooperation for legislators to craft laws that accomplish the intended result.  Thus far, our legislature has been unable to cooperate.

Thus, the title of this article is incorrect.   The RJA is not dead