Welcome to a country where a law called the “Racial Justice Act” is employed to potentially reduce the punishment of someone who killed a man because of his color:
For nearly three weeks, convicted murderer Marcus Reymond Robinson has listened quietly inside a county courtroom here to intricate testimony about statistics — dry statistics that could get him off death row.
Robinson, a black man convicted of killing a white teenager in 1991, is the first inmate to test North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act, the nation’s only law that allows death row prisoners to reduce their sentences to life without parole by proving racial bias in jury selection or sentencing.
The alleged racial bias being discussed, mind you, is not racial bias from Robinson’s trial. It all has to do with other trials. We have to find out if the system is racist, you see, so we can mitigate the punishment of this racist murderer — even if his own trial was fair. Don’t you get it?
The issue of race has dominated Robinson’s hearing before a Superior Court judge here. Prosecutors have pointed out that Robinson said “he was going to get him a whitey” before he killed 17-year-old Erik Tornblom with a shotgun blast to the face and robbed him of $27. An accomplice is serving a life sentence.
So how will this racial bias be proved? By statistics!
Robinson’s case, and possibly those to follow, hinges on a voluminous study of peremptory challenges by prosecutors in 173 death penalty cases in North Carolina between 1990 and 2010.
The courts look at whether prosecutors struck more blacks than whites from death penalty juries. The story does not say whether the courts will be allowed to examine whether there are racially neutral reasons for the strikes.
Let’s say there are six whites and six blacks on your panel. Four of the whites and two of the blacks say they can treat everyone equally, while two of the whites and four of the blacks say they can’t apply the death penalty and that they don’t trust police. You, as the prosecutor, strike the latter six from your panel.
You have just struck twice as many blacks as whites. You racist. And yet, you were doing your job: excusing biased jurors for race-neutral reasons.
So now, under this law, we take the statistics from your case and go study them in a completely different case that has nothing to do with yours. This is all necessary, we are told, in the name of “racial justice.” Meanwhile, what of the white boy who was killed for being white?
The use of statistics from unrelated trials, permitted under the act, has enraged opponents of the law, among them Tornblom’s parents. The couple has attended the trial, quietly fuming as they listened to testimony.
“This whole study is a sham,” Tornblom’s stepmother, Patricia Tornblom, said in a courtroom interview during a break in testimony. “What does all this stuff from other cases have to do with this case?”
Her stepson, not Robinson, was the victim of racism, she said, nodding toward the defendant. Robinson, 38, a broad-faced man with short dreadlocks, sat at the defense table nearby, dressed in a sport shirt and khaki pants.
“He chose a white boy to kill — and he killed him,” Tornblom said.
Ah, racial justice. George Orwell would be so proud!