The North Carolina Legislature repealed the state’s Racial Justice Act this week, and the Republican governor, Pat McCrory, is expected to sign the bill. But the state cannot erase the detailed and irrefutable proof of ugly racial bias that led a state trial judge to resentence four death row inmates to life without parole because of this statute.
Passed in 2009, the law made North Carolina the first state in the country to give death row inmates the chance to have their sentences changed if they proved that state prosecutors significantly discriminated on the basis of race — for example, in selecting jurors. Judge Gregory Weeks tried one case on its own and three others together; in 2012, he found the bias of prosecutors intentional in all four cases.
In the first trial, he found “highly reliable” a statistical study by the Michigan State University College of Law that showed racial bias in removing blacks from juries in death penalty cases in all but 4 of the state’s 100 counties and that prosecutors were more than twice as likely to strike qualified blacks from a jury as members of other races in the 20-year period from 1990 to 2010.
“In the second trial, the judge found that words and deeds of the prosecutors showed racial bias in jury selection. Prosecutors in at least one case used a cheat sheet with pretexts for striking black jurors without mentioning race. A prospective black juror with no criminal record was struck because she was said to live in a “bad area,” whereas a white juror who had been a marijuana dealer was picked in part because he was a “fine guy.”