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4 death cases going to state Supreme Court

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FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -

The cases of four inmates who had death sentences commuted to life under North Carolina's Racial Justice Act will be reviewed by the state Supreme Court.

The Fayetteville Observer reports the court hears arguments Monday on whether a Cumberland County judge made the right decision in removing the inmates from death row because their cases were tainted by racism.

The landmark Racial Justice Act, passed in 2009, was repealed last year. The law had allowed convicted murderers to have their sentences reduced to life in prison if they could prove racial bias influenced the outcome of their cases.

Both proponents and critics say the repeal will restart the death penalty in a state that hasn't executed an inmate since 2006.

Republicans and Gov. Pat McCrory said the law was so poorly crafted that it has allowed nearly all of the state's 156 death-row inmates to launch appeals under the law regardless of their race. They said the law impeded the will of unanimous jury decisions.

The cases before the high court involve three inmates who are black men and one who is a Lumbee Indian woman. Two of the men were convicted of killing law officers while the third killed a teenage boy. The woman was convicted in the slayings of two people.

The four were the only death row inmates to have presented evidence to a judge under the Racial Justice Act.

In December of 2012, Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Gregory A. Weeks commuted the sentences of three of the inmates saying prosecutors in each case made a concerted effort to reduce the number of black jurors.

He cited evidence that included handwritten notes of prosecutors indicating they worked to get blacks eliminated from the pool of jurors, resulting in panels that were overwhelmingly white.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
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