- Associated Press - Friday, December 18, 2015

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (AP) - The N.C. Supreme Court has vacated a judge’s orders to remove four convicted murderers from death row and change their sentences to life in prison without parole over allegations of racial bias.

Local media outlets report the court said Cumberland County Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks erred in failing to give prosecutors enough time to assess a study that found statistical evidence blacks were prevented from serving on juries in death penalty trials.

The court also said Weeks erred in combining three unrelated cases in one hearing. The court said the hearings must be held again. The ruling didn’t address the claims of racial bias made by the four.

All four cases were from Cumberland County homicides, including Tilmon Golphin, who killed a state trooper and a sheriff’s deputy; and Quintel Augustine, who killed a Fayetteville police officer. Also affected by the ruling were Marcus Reymond Robinson, who killed a teen in a robbery; and Christina S. “Queen” Walters, who led a gang that killed two women.

The four defendants used the Racial Justice Act to get their death sentences commuted. According to the Supreme Court, evidentiary hearings conducted by Weeks in 2011 and 2012 were unfair to the prosecutors who were trying to keep the four on death row.

“All this decision will do is add more delays and cost the state millions to conduct new studies and hold new hearings,” the defendants’ attorney Jay Ferguson said in a statement. “We will be throwing more taxpayer money into a hopelessly broken death penalty.”

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