Not because their crimes were any less heinous, but because their juries had minority under-representation, three convicted murderers had their death sentences commuted to life in prison without parole under the N.C. Racial Justice Act.
On Thursday, while commuting the death sentences in the Cumberland County courtroom, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks said, “Their crimes repel every one of us in this courtroom, but their crimes are not at issue in these proceedings … What is at issue in these cases is the process by which they were sentenced to death. The question is whether their sentences of death were fairly imposed under the law.”
Furor erupted in the court when the death sentence of Tilmon Golphin, a black man who shot and killed two white police officers, Ed Lowry and David Hathcock, was commuted. Ed Lowry’s brother, Al Lowry stood up in court and began yelling at the judge. He was escorted outside the court.
And the court found that the prosecutors at the trials of the guilty had acted with racial bias when they decided not to consider African-American citizens from serving on the jury at the concerned trials.
Judge Weeks’ ruling cited statistics that is surprising and demoralizing. Weeks found that even after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled racial bias in jury selection to be unconstitutional, the prosecutors were trained to work around the ruling, instead of being trained in ways to eliminate bias. His findings were supported by statistics, as well as handwritten notes of prosecutors.
Prosecutors broke down under cross-examination. Cassandra Stubbs, a lawyer for one of the convicted murderers, a Lumbee Indian who used to lead a mixed-race gang which in 1998 shot and killed two white women and critically injured a black woman, said, “We heard from words and the deeds of the prosecutors themselves in this case just how much race affected their decision-making process.”