Death sen­tences tossed; judge cites ju­rors’ race

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By michael Biesecker

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — A North Carolina judge Thurs­day com­muted the death sen­tences of three con­victed killers, in­clud­ing two who killed law en­force­ment of­fi­cers, to life in prison with­out the pos­si­bil­ity of pa­role af­ter rul­ing that race played an un­just role in jury se­lec­tion at their tri­als.

Cum­ber­land County Su­pe­rior Court Judge Gre­gory A. Weeks based his rul­ing on ev­i­dence pre­sented over four weeks of hear­ings that he says showed pros­e­cu­tors in each case made a con­certed ef­fort to re­duce the num­ber of black ju­rors.

The three who had their sen­tences com­muted were among the most no­to­ri­ous killers on North Carolina’s death row. Two had killed law en­force­ment of­fi­cers.

Fam­ily mem­bers of the vic­tims and more than 60 uni­formed po­lice of­fi­cers packed the court­room. Be­fore Weeks could fin­ish is­su­ing his rul­ing, the brother of a mur­dered state trooper stood up and yelled an ex­ple­tive at the judge.

The Repub­li­can-con­trolled Leg­is­la­ture re­cently scaled back the state’s Racial Jus­tice Act, on which Thurs­day’s rul­ing was based. Weeks said his rul­ing ap­plies un­der both the old and new laws.

He cited ev­i­dence that in­cluded hand­writ­ten notes of pros­e­cu­tors in­di­cat­ing they worked to get blacks elim­i­nated from the pool of ju­rors, re­sult­ing in pan­els that were over­whelm­ingly white.

“This con­clu­sion is based pri­mar­ily on the words and deeds of the pros­e­cu­tors in­volved in th­ese cases,” Weeks, who is black, said from the bench. “De­spite protes­ta­tions to the con­trary, their words, their deeds, speak vol­umes.”

The cases in­volve con- victed mur­der­ers Christina “Queen” Wal­ters, Til­mon Gol­phin and Quin­tel Au­gus­tine. Ear­lier this year, Mar­cus Rey­mond Robin­son be­came the first to have his sen­tence com­muted to life with­out pa­role un­der the pro­vi­sions of the land­mark 2009 law.

Wal­ters is a Lum­bee In­dian. Au­gus­tine and Gol­phin are black.

Wal­ters was the leader of a Fayetteville street gang con­victed of killing two women and shoot­ing an­other dur­ing an ini­ti­a­tion rit­ual in 1998.

Au­gus­tine was con­victed of killing Fayetteville po­lice Of­fi­cer Roy Turner Jr. in Novem­ber 2001.

Gol­phin killed N.C. High­way Pa­trol Trooper Ed Lowry and Cum­ber­land County sher­iff’s Deputy David Hath­cock dur­ing a traf­fic stop in Septem­ber 1997. Gol­phin’s younger brother is also serv­ing a life sen­tence for the homi­cides.

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