RALEIGH — North Carolina’s Supreme Court agreed Friday to hear the appeal of state attorneys who disagree with a trial court ruling that reduced death sentences of three convicted killers to life in prison because of racial bias.
The justices announced they accepted a petition by the state Attorney General’s Office to review the Racial Justice Act cases of Christina “Queen” Walters, Tilmon Golphin and Quintel Augustine.
Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks ruled last December that race had played unjust roles in jury selection at their trials.
Walters is a Lumbee Indian convicted in gang-related murders in 1998. Augustine was convicted of killing a Fayetteville police officer in 2001, while Golphin killed a Highway Patrol trooper and Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy in 1997. They are both black. Golphin’s younger brother is also serving a life sentence for the homicides.
The justices already have taken briefs on appeal in an earlier Racial Justice Act case in which Marcus Reymond Robinson became the first person removed from death row using the law after a similar ruling by Weeks in April 2012. Oral arguments are expected before the justices in the next few months.
A North Carolina legislature controlled by Democrats passed the Racial Justice Act in 2009, but Republicans now in charge rolled back the law in July 2012, overriding then-Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto. The General Assembly repealed the law in June, and GOP Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill doing so.
Nearly all of North Carolina’s more than 150 death-row prisoners filed appeals using the original Racial Justice Act, including white defendants convicted of killing white victims. Prosecutors say the original law was extending further death row appeals. Critics of the repeal have said the law was succeeding at rooting out racial discrimination among prosecutors in jury selections for capital trials.
It is possible condemned prisoners whose Racial Justice Act arguments weren’t heard before the law was changed and then repealed could seek relief in court because they lost this method to challenge their sentence.