Landmark Racial Ruling Takes Inmate Off Death Row
North Carolina judge says prosecutors kept jury mostly white
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 20, 2012 4:32 PM CDT
Shirley Burns, right, hugs a family friend after Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks ruled Friday that her son's death sentence will be changed to life in prison.   (AP Photo/The Fayetteville Observer, Andrew Craft)
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(Newser) – A black inmate in North Carolina came off death row today thanks to a controversial new law in the state. A judge reduced the sentence of Marcus Reymond Robinson to life without parole after ruling that prosecutors purposely sought to keep blacks off his jury, reports the News & Observer of Raleigh. The landmark ruling is the first under the state's Racial Justice Act, and about 150 other death row inmates in the state have cases pending, notes AP.

Among other things, the law allows the judge to take statistical patterns on race into account. In this case, Robinson's legal team showed that prosecutors rejected about 50% of potential black jurors and only 15% of non-black jurors. The jury ended up with only two black people. That disparity is enough "to support an inference of intentional discrimination," wrote the judge, according to the New York Times. Robinson was convicted of murdering a white teenager in 1994.