April 20th, 2012
First Challenge Under North Carolina's Racial Justice Act Proves Racial Bias
On April 20, 2012, Cumberland County Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks issued the first decision under North Carolina's Racial Justice Act, ruling that racial bias had played a role in Marcus Robinson's 1991 trial and commuting Mr. Robinson's death sentence to life imprisonment without parole.
Marcus Robinson, an African American man who was eighteen at the time of the crime, was sentenced to death in Cumberland County for the murder of a white person. North Carolina's Racial Justice Act (RJA), which was narrowly adopted in 2009, authorized relief for death row defendants who could prove that race was a "significant factor" in jury selection, prosecutorial charging decisions, or the imposition of the death penalty. The RJA authorized defendants to bring claims based on evidence of discrimination at the statewide, judicial division, or district/county level.
According to a Michigan State University Law School study, during the time period Mr. Robinson was tried, North Carolina prosecutors used peremptory challenges to remove blacks from capital juries more than twice as often as they did whites, and that disparity was even more pronounced in Cumberland County. At Mr. Robinson's trial, prosecutors removed only 15% of white prospective jurors, compared to 50% of the qualified African American jurors. At an evidentiary hearing on the RJA challenge, EJI Director Bryan Stevenson testified regarding the history and broader context of racial discrimination in jury selection. Following the decision, prosecutors immediately made plans to appeal and the state legislature passed measures that weakened the RJA.
April 20th, 2014
Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Wrongfully Imprisoned for Nearly 20 Years, Dead at 76
Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, an African American middleweight boxer who was wrongfully convicted of murder in 1967 and served nearly twenty years in prison before being exonerated, died on April 20, 2014, in Toronto, Canada, after a battle with prostate cancer. He was 76.
Carter began his professional boxing career in 1961 and consistently ranked as one of the top ten middleweight boxers in the country. He vied for the championship in December 1965, losing to the reigning champion Joey Giardello.
In 1966, Carter and a friend, John Artis, were arrested for a triple murder at a New Jersey bar. Two of the victims died at the scene, one later died at a hospital, and a fourth man survived the shooting. Carter and Artis were taken to the hospital but the two survivors did not identify them. Carter and Artis had credible alibis and the ballistics report from the scene of the crime did not match the weapon registered to Carter. However, Alfred Bello and Arthur Bradley – two men who were breaking into a nearby factory at the time of the shooting – claimed Carter and Artis were the Black men they’d seen leaving the bar with weapons. Both Carter and Artis were convicted and sentenced to life in prison.
Multiple appeals followed, and Bello and Bradley later recanted their statements, revealing that prosecutors had offered them protection and assistance with pending criminal charges in exchange for their testimony.
In 1985, after Carter spent nearly 20 years in prison, Federal Judge H. Lee Sarokin of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey ruled that Carter had not received a fair trial and set aside the conviction, commenting that the prosecution had appealed to “racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure.” In 1988, after prosecutors declined to seek a third trial and filed a motion to dismiss the charges, a Superior Court judge dropped all charges against Carter (and Artis). Carter later relocated to Toronto, Canada, where he served as the executive director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted.