A North Carolina judge commuted the sentences of three death row inmates to life in prison without possibility for parole at an emotionally charged hearing yesterday after finding that racial discrimination played a role in their trials and sentences, reports the Raleigh News & Observer. Judge Gregory Weeks issued his rulings for Tilmon Golphin, Christina Walters, and Quintel Augustine after they challenged their sentences under the 2009 Racial Justice Act.
Walters, a Lumbee Indian, was convicted of killing two white women and shooting a black woman in a 1998 gang-initiation murder. Augustine, who is black, was convicted of killing a black Fayetteville police officer in 2001. Golphin, also black, was convicted of killing two white law enforcement officers in a 1997 traffic stop. Attorneys for the defendants argued that prosecutors had systematically tried to prevent blacks from serving on the juries for the trials. The defense team presented statistics and handwritten notes from prosecutors' case files to bolster its contentions. Prosecutors argued racial bias did not play a role in the cases. Prosecutors plan to appeal the ruling,as they did in the case of Marcus Reymond Robinson, the first death row inmate to have his sentence converted to life without parole under the Racial Justice Act.