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Judge finds evidence of racial bias in North Carolina death sentence

In the first case heard under North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act (RJA), a judge found that racial bias played a significant role in the death sentence given to Marcus Reymond Robinson 18 years ago. Robinson’s sentence was changed to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The RJA, passed in 2009, allows death row inmates in North Carolina to challenge their death sentences if they can prove that race was a factor in their sentencing.

An editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal hailed the Robinson ruling and the RJA itself, “The RJA addresses racial bias in the pursuit and imposition of the death penalty. The evidence of that should be obvious to anyone who has been awake in this state in the last 30 years... in the Cumberland County case, justice prevailed.”

Other members of the media said the RJA doesn’t take North Carolina far enough. The News & Record editorial board wrote, "Doing away with the death penalty and converting all death sentences to life in prison will save time and money. Those are practical reasons for ending capital punishment. There are more profound considerations: the chance of executing an innocent person; the unequal distribution of justice, when some murderers die and others live; and the changing attitudes of society."

A New York Times editorial added, "The Supreme Court, 25 years ago, said it was the duty of the states to address racial prejudice in the administration of the death penalty. Only a small number have actually done so. The Racial Justice Act is a laudable effort and the ruling in this case corrects a gross injustice. But the persistence of racial bias in far too many states is a powerful reason that the death penalty should be abolished in North Carolina and throughout the country."

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