Editorial: Courtroom blindfolds missing

Dec. 18, 2012 @ 07:03 PM

Superior Court Justice Gregory A. Weeks commuted the death sentences of three convicted killers last week to life without parole, setting off a firestorm of disapproval among many, including law enforcement officers.

One of the convicts affected by Weeks’ ruling killed both a N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper and a Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy. Another killed a Fayetteville police officer. The third was involved in a gang initiation, killing two women and shooting a third.

Jurors found them guilty, sentenced them to die, and the Racial Justice Act gave them a chance to live longer. They will still die behind bars. Families of the victims and law enforcement colleagues wanted the jurors’ decision to be carried out.

The Racial Justice Act, passed in 2009, was scaled back last summer. It remains a political lightning rod, and Weeks’ ruling in this case and another he made earlier in the year was not going to change that aspect. The original ruling allowed statistics to show racial bias influenced decisions; now evidence must be presented.

Guilt was not an issue upon which Weeks could act. That was decided. What Weeks could do was determine if racial bias was involved in the courtroom. He said it was and acted accordingly.

The two who killed law enforcement officers are black, the other is Lumbee Indian. Weeks is also black. The death row inmate benefiting from Weeks’ decision earlier in the year, Marcus Robinson, is also black.

We don’t believe the color of a person’s skin should matter in rulings for or against in the courtroom. Lady Justice is depicted with a blindfold for reasons beyond color.

And yet, we’d be accused of sticking our head in the sand if we didn’t recognize justice is not always color-blind. Rest assured, it cuts in many ways and directions beyond race, ethnicity and religion.

Our court system is far better than any number of alternatives throughout the world. But it relies on the human element, an element that invites both intentional and unintentional error.

Whether a prosecutor or judge, the accused, a witness or the victim, the blindfold has to be put on by all. Only then will justice be assured.