Laverne Keys, a longtime North Carolinian who wished to do her civic duty by serving on a jury, believes she was excluded from service because she is black. “It made me feel like I was back in 1960, that racism is still very much alive. It makes you wonder whether all these people are being given a fair trial or given a fair consequence so far as the death penalty,” she says in a new video out today from the ACLU.
The video features Keys and two other North Carolinians who say they were wrongfully struck from juries in capital cases because of their race. According to a recent Michigan State University study, state prosecutors are significantly more likely to eliminate potential African-American jurors than other potential jurors.
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The video comes during the first hearing under the historic North Carolina Racial Justice Act (RJA), which allows death row prisoners to present statistics and other evidence showing racial bias in the death penalty and ask that their death sentence be commuted to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The ACLU’s Cassandra Stubbs is part of a team of lawyers representing Marcus Robinson, a black defendant convicted in the death of a white person and who received a far harsher judgment than white defendants who committed comparable crimes from a jury that may have been tainted by a racially biased jury selection process. Potential African-American jurors were struck from Robinson’s jury at a rate 3.5 times higher than other potential jurors.
Carolina has the nation’s sixth-largest death row population, well over half of which is comprised of black people. Thirty-one people on North Carolina’s death row were sentenced by all-white juries.
Says Denny LeBoeuf, Director of the ACLU Capital Punishment Project: “The stories presented in this video make clear that the death penalty system in North Carolina and across the nation is plagued by discrimination. The Racial Justice Act is a crucial means of ensuring that no one is wrongfully executed because of racial bias.”