Who could possibly be against a law entitled the Racial Justice Act (RJA)? Aren’t we all for ending racial injustice? The sad fact is that this law has nothing to do with race or justice. Instead, RJA is the Orwellian title of a sneaky law that does an end-run around our state’s death penalty.
RJA attempts to turn convicted, cold-blooded murderers into victims of racial discrimination. That’s right – as the real victims rot in the ground and their families continue to suffer, RJA allows death row inmates yet one additional avenue of appeal. This time it is statistical analysis – numbers fudging – if you will.
The alleged victim (the convicted murderer) is allowed to present statistics to a judge in an effort to demonstrate that the death penalty was sought against him due to his race. In other words, the murderer-turned-victim should have been given a life sentence, except for the racism of the trial judge, prosecutor or jury.
Do not be confused. RJA has nothing to do with the innocence or guilt of the murderer. This fact was previously established by a jury trial and countless other appeals afforded to the death row inmate.
Instead, RJA is a last ditch effort to get a murderer off death row and represents Monday morning quarterbacking to the Nth degree. Death penalty opponents passed this law, adding yet one more out for convicted murderers to avoid an appointment with the executioner.
To say that RJA was poorly written and ill conceived is an understatement. Virtually every inmate (white, black, Hispanic and Native American) has appealed his death sentence under RJA. All claim that statistics will show that their death sentences (not their convictions) were racist acts and that they should receive life in prison instead.
The absurdity does not stop with this argument; it has gone much further. The murderer of Fayetteville Police Officer Roy Turner was recently granted relief under RJA and taken off death row. Again, there was no question that Officer Turner was murdered in cold blood. However, his killer got his sentence reduced by arguing that because he was black, he was unfairly targeted for a death sentence. Here’s the real kicker in the case — Officer Turner was also black. So try to wrap your mind around this — a black man murdered another black man and the fact that the murderer received a death sentence is somehow racist under RJA. Needless to say and to paraphrase Shakespeare, “Something is rotten in the State of North Carolina.”
The stench you smell is RJA. Regardless of where you come down on the death penalty, it is currently the law of our land. If you do not believe in the death penalty, it is incumbent upon you to fight to have it overturned in the General Assembly, not support a ridiculous law that defies logic and common sense. The de facto moratorium on the death penalty created by RJA is a legislative embarrassment and should be abolished.
Recent legislation was introduced in the North Carolina General Assembly, not only to rid our state of RJA, but also to void all appeals currently pending under the act. It is past time to get rid of this absurd law that turns murderers into victims while the real victims lie in their graves.
Thom Goolsby is a state senator, practicing attorney and law professor. He is a chairman of the Senate Judiciary 1 and Justice and Public Safety Committees. He is also the sponsor of this legislation.