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Families of Murder Victims Defend Racial Justice Act

April 19, 2011

RALEIGH, N.C. - They may be unlikely allies, but families of murder victims are working to protect the rights of inmates in North Carolina through the Racial Justice Act (RJA). It's the state law that allows inmates and defendants to challenge their death sentences if they can prove that race was a factor. Some legislators have proposed changes that would weaken the law.

Jean Parks' sister was murdered more than 30 years ago. She joins other family members meeting with lawmakers today to defend the RJA.

"If an injustice is committed in the process of trying to find justice for our loved ones, then it doesn't feel like true justice."

If an inmate does prove that racial bias was a factor in his or her sentence, it can be commuted to life in prison, but without the possibility of parole, and no inmate could be released under the law. The RJA was originally motivated by extensive evidence that race has played a role in the sentencing of North Carolina inmates.

Scott Bass is the North Carolina coordinator for the organization Murder Victims' Families for Reconciliation.

"They don't want just anyone held accountable for a crime. They don't want someone to receive a harsh sentence due to racial bias. They want the appropriate person held accountable, in the appropriate way. "

Opponents of the RJA predict it will clog the court system with racial bias claims.

A recent study by the University of Michigan found that more than 40 percent of the defendants on death row in North Carolina had been sentenced by juries that were either all-white or included only one person of color.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC