North Carolina Judge Gregory Weeks ruled [order, PDF] Thursday that racial discrimination played a role in jury selection that secured the death sentences of Tilmon Golphin, Christina Walters and Quintel Augustine, commuting their sentences. Under North Carolina's Racial Justice Act (RJA) [text, PDF], individuals who have received a death sentence may attempt to have that sentence removed by presenting evidence showing that racial bias was a major factor in the death sentence being applied. Weeks found that "race was, in fact, a significant factor in the prosecution's use of peremptory strikes during jury selection" and commuted their death sentences to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. This ruling is the second time the RJA has been applied and has now been used to commute four death sentences.
The act was first applied [JURIST report] in April. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] has been very vocal in its support of the act. It has released press statements after both this and the April [ACLU press releases] rulings, calling these key steps in affirming that race has no place in capital punishment cases. Cassandra Stubbs, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU Capital Punishment Project, said in the statement, "The court sent the unmistakable message that prosecutors must change their jury selection practices if they want to seek the death penalty."