Writing for The Daily Beast, commentator David R. Dow says last week’s landmark ruling on a racist application of the death penalty in North Carolina indicates “we're finally beginning to have an honest discussion about how we justify legally killing people.” In the first invocation of North Carolina’s Racial Justice Act, a judge ordered that a death-row inmate's sentence be reduced to life in prison, after finding that his trial had been so irreversibly tainted by racism that executing him would violate the Constitution.
Twenty-one years ago, Marcus Robinson shot and killed 17-year-old Erik Tornblom. He stole Tornblom's car and took $27 from his wallet. But Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks concluded that despite Robinson's horrendous crime, there was no doubt that racism infected the state's criminal-justice system—specifically, that prosecutors intentionally kept blacks off of capital juries—and that this same racism presumptively infected Robinson's trial too. He ruled that even abhorrent crimes do not ify the Constitution's guarantee of racial equality.