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A North Carolina judge ruled Friday that racism played a significant role in a 1994 trial that sent a black man to death row for killing a white teenager, a landmark ruling that converted the death sentence to life without parole.
The Charlotte Observer explains that Marcus Reymond Robinson was convicted of first-degree murder for killing a 17-year-old boy during a 1991 robbery. But thanks to the Racial Justice Act, a 2009 state law that allows capital murder defendants and death row inmates to present evidence of racial bias, Robinson's lawyers were able to successfully challenge the death sentence nearly two decades after it was handed down.
Friday's ruling was the first heard under the controversial 2009 law.
Robinson’s lawyers used Michigan State University statistics to demonstrate that prosecutors used peremptory challenges to remove blacks from juries more than twice as much as they did against whites. ("Peremptory challenges" usually refers to the right of the defense and prosecution to reject a certain number of potential jurors who appear to have an unfavorable bias without giving any reason.)
The study found that disparity existed across the state, but to an even greater degree in the county where Robinson was sentenced and in his trial in particular. Robinson’s jury included one Native American, two blacks and nine whites, according to the Fayetteville Observer.
Meanwhile, prosecutors vehemently opposed using the research, questioning its methodology and arguing that jury selection includes thousands of possible reasons for removing a potential juror, reports the New York Times. The state plans to appeal the ruling.