For nearly three weeks, convicted murderer Marcus Reymond Robinson has listened in a North Carolina court to intricate testimony about statistics that could get him off death row, reports the Los Angeles Times. 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 2009 act has drawn condemnation from prosecutors and Republican legislators who call it a backdoor attempt to repeal the death penalty. It allows inmates to cite statistical patterns in statewide jury selection — rather than focusing solely on their own cases. “It’s new territory,” Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center, which opposes capital punishment. Robinson’s case is being followed by legal scholars, lawyers, and politicians. If he’s successful, it could prompt calls for similar laws in 20 other states that have conducted studies on race, jury selection and the death penalty. Robinson’s case, and possibly others, hinges on a voluminous study of peremptory challenges by prosecutors in 173 death penalty cases in North Carolina between 1990 and 2010.