Monday, May 23, 2011

NC Racial Justice Act blowing in the wind?

If you're in NC try to locate the phone numbers/emails for the NC House Judiciary Committee B If short of time, you may want to call/email only the Republicans because it does sound like in this case the Demos are a solid block against the Repeal. I was on phone long time - esp. with one staffer who mainly was trying to convince me that since God was sovereign - we needn't push for any certian result and that the office had plenty of research so let it be however things come out. Hopefully just mainly listening allowed my few points to make a difference?

This is such a crucial vote...plz do your part...


Attorneys speak out on N.C. racial bias law repeal
Lawmakers consider overturning 2009 legislation

Published Monday, May 23, 2011 12:22 pm
by Gary Robertson, Associated Press

RALEIGH, – Prosecutors, defense attorneys and relatives of murder victims are speaking out for and against Republican legislation that would cancel a 2009 law that North Carolina death-row inmates are using to challenge their sentences on the basis of racial bias.

A House judiciary committee received comments on the repeal of the 2009 Racial Justice Act, which would eliminate a method whereby defendants can offer statistical evidence to show race played a key factor in putting a disproportionate number of people from a racial group on death row or on trial for their lives. No vote on the legislation was taken.

Most of North Carolina's death row inmates filed paperwork under the law to overturn their sentences, including some offenders who are the same race as their victims and have never previously offered allegations of racial discrimination in subsequent appeals, according to a district attorney who spoke at the hearing.

Seth Edwards, the district attorney for Beaufort, Hyde, Martin, Tyrrell and Washington counties, said there are already legal safeguards in place to ensure defendants in capital cases are tried fairly and without regard to skin color, including in the choice of jurors.

“I can assure you that in these capital murder cases, these cases are about the actions of the defendant,” said Edwards, president of the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys. “They are not about the race of the defendant. They are not about the race of the victim.''

Edwards held up a picture of the victim of a 2001 Washington County murder who was suffocated in plastic wrapped around his head. The victim and the defendant, who is now on death row, are black.

“Do you believe that the defendant was sentenced to death in this case because of his race?” he asked. “I submit not.”

Defense attorneys said the potential repeal would reverse efforts by the General Assembly to ensure the criminal justice system is legitimate. No one is denying murder cases involve brutal crimes, said Henderson Hill, a Charlotte defense lawyer who has represented death row inmates.

Hill said the Racial Justice Act gives defendants and their attorneys access to science to provide proof that there are traditions and practices in law offices and counties that disenfranchise black residents, such as by keeping them off of juries. A judge who finds race was a key factor in the case can reduce a death row inmate's sentence to life in prison without parole.

“Every homicide case has bad pictures,'' Hill said. “This bill is not about guilt or innocence. The question is whether the system is legitimate.''

A recent Michigan State University showed a defendant is 2.6 times more likely to be sentenced to death if at least one of the victims is white. The study also showed that out of the 159 people on death row, 31 had all-white juries and 38 had only one person of color on their jury.

After the hearing, family members of murder victims who support the Racial Justice Act held a news conference.

Therese Bartholomew of Charlotte, who said she pursued a master's degree in criminal justice after her brother was shot to death in 2003 to better understand the system, said she was offended by the complaint from prosecutors that white death row inmates also were using the law to challenge their convictions.

“Isn't the point that we're all supposed to have equal access to justice?” she asked. “That's supposed to be the point, regardless of our skin.''

Associated Press writer Emery P. Dalesio contributed to this report.

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