More than two years after the North Carolina Legislature enacted an historic law barring race discrimination in death penalty cases, Marcus Robinson and his lawyers were in Cumberland County Superior Court earlier this week to argue his claim under the Racial Justice Act (RJA). They came prepared to present statistics showing that prosecutors across North Carolina discriminated against African-Americans who had come to court willing and able to serve on juries. A courtroom of concerned citizens came to hear this evidence. Prosecutors, however, were not ready to confront it. In fact, the entire hearing centered on why the prosecutors claimed not to be ready.
Actions speak louder than words. Although the prosecutors' words were that they needed more time to get ready and get their expert up to speed, their actions suggest that they simply don't want to face the facts.
The fact is, Marcus Robinson, along with approximately 160 other men on North Carolina's death row, filed claims under the RJA more than a year ago. The fact is, Michigan State University statisticians presented the state with a study showing evidence of racial discrimination by prosecutors in jury selection across North Carolina, and the state has had that information for more than a year. The fact is, the state's excuses could have been addressed months before this week's hearing.
Robinson, who is African-American, was convicted and sentenced to death for killing a white person. And prosecutors struck qualified African-Americans from his jury at a far higher rate (50%) than they struck qualified white jurors (15%). The prosecutor's strikes left only two African-Americans on Robinson's jury of 12, in a county where they make up 37% of the population.
All this points to the disturbing conclusion that the jury that convicted and sentenced Robinson to death may have been tainted by a racially biased jury selection process.
It's time to face facts. Race should never play a role in the decision of whether a man lives or dies at the state's hands.
The judge has scheduled the next hearing for November 14, 2011. Stay tuned here for further developments.