Marcus Robinson

Picture of gavel
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Monday afternoon, the state Supreme Court heard the cases of four former death row prisoners whose sentences were commuted to life in prison under the Racial Justice Act.

State lawmakers repealed the Racial Justice Act last year. That act allowed death row inmates to use statistical evidence of racial bias to challenge their sentences. The cases heard today are still pending.

Attorney Danielle Elder represented the state in court this morning. She and other prosecutors argue that a previous ruling was based on jury selection statistics that were too broad.

Advocates of the state's Racial Justice Act are hailing a judge's ruling today that race was a factor in a death row inmate's jury selection. Marcus Robinson was sentenced in 1994 for murder. Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks ruled that prosecutors in the trial disqualified potential black jurors more often than others. Stephen Dear with People of Faith Against the Death Penalty says he thinks this decision shows that bias has played a role in convictions.

The state's first Racial Justice Act hearing will get underway today in Cumberland County.

Later today, a Superior Court judge in Fayetteville will preside over a hearing that will ultimately decide whether to let a death row inmate live. Marcus Robinson is the first prisoner on death row to appeal his sentence under the Racial Justice Act, passed in 2009. If the judge finds racial bias played a role in Robinson’s conviction or sentencing, his sentence could be commuted to life in prison. Robinson’s mother, Shirley Burns, plans to attend the hearing.