Cover Story: Racial Justice Act repeal?

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - The end to a controversial law in North Carolina?  The fate of more than a hundred inmates on North Carolina's death row is now in the hands of the state senate.

Lawmakers in Raleigh are expected to vote to repeal the Racial Justice Act.

The law lets death row inmates appeal their sentences based racial bias.

All but three of the 157 inmates on North Carolina's death row are wanting their day in court to argue that racial discrimination played a role in their case - black and white convicts.

Two years ago the law was passed over the objections of prosecutors and they're helping lead the charge now to repeal it.

It's one of the laws Republicans in charge of the legislature for the first time in more than 100 years have wanted to undo.

Convicts like Charlotte cop killer Demeatrius Montgomery have always been able to argue there was a racial bias in their case.

But the Racial Justice Act passed by a Democratic General Assembly and signed by Gov. Perdue in 2009 lets death row inmates introduce statistics about racial discrimination to help prove their case.

Facts like a Michigan State study which found defendants who killed a white person in North Carolina were two-and-a half times more likely to receive a death sentence than those whose victims were black.

District attorneys who fought the law say using statistics without the facts of each case can cloud the picture in jurors' minds.  The D.A.s also argue that they will be inundated with death row cases and hearings will deplete time and resources for prosecutors.

But so far hardly any of the death row inmates appeals have gone to court and supporters of the law say it hasn't been given a chance to work yet.

"I think it would be a mistake to repeal it."  Charlotte School of Law professor Cindy Adcock represented inmates on North Carolina's death row for 13 years.

If a defendant prevails under the Racial Justice Act (though none has made it to that point yet) the convict will still remains behind bars.  The sentence becomes life without the possibility of parole.

What about the prosecutors' argument that statistics outside the facts of a case shouldn't be introduced by death row inmates.  Adcock says statistics tell a more distressing story.

"The reason why defendants are given this opportunity to use statistical evidence based not only in their county but in other counties in the state is for the same reason that in any racial discrimination case courts use statistics.. that is it's very hard to prove that someone actually had the intent to discriminate against someone based on the color of their skin.. that's very hard to prove," Adcock said.

The North Carolina Senate took up debate Monday night on repealing the Racial Justice Act.  It passed out of a Senate committee Monday afternoon.

The state House passed its version this summer.  If it clears the state Senate, the bill will go to Governor Perdue.

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