Cumberland County Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Jim Ammons will step down and another judge will hear the cases of four convicted murderers.
Quintel Augustine, Tilmon Golphin, Marcus Robinson and Christina Walters were the only convicts in North Carolina to have their death sentences commuted under the Racial Justice Act. The four inmates were removed from death row by former Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks and resentenced to life in prison without parole. They persuaded Weeks that their prosecutors illegally blocked African-Americans from serving on their juries, thereby invoking the now defunct Racial Justice Act.
Cumberland County Assistant District Attorney Rob Thompson is asking that the four defendants remain on death row. He argues that a 2013 act that repealed the controversial law no longer provides them a shield. The North Carolina Supreme Court decided in December that Weeks made errors that biased the cases against the prosecutors who were trying to keep the four defendants on death row. The Supreme court also said Judge Weeks should not have allowed Augustine, Golphin and Walters to present their claims as a group. The high court said their cases should have been conducted separately. Weeks decisions were remanded to Cumberland County Superior Court where Judge Ammons would normally have heard the case.
Robinson, Augustine and Walters were in the courtroom for the hearing. Golphin chose not to appear, but his lawyers were there on his behalf. The lawyers alleged that Ammons would be unfair to their clients. They pointed out that Ammons has a close relationship with law enforcement, including the fact that his brother-in-law used to be the head of the N.C. Highway Patrol.
“I have sworn to administer judgment without favoritism to anyone or to the state. I will not violate those oaths for anyone or anything,” Ammons said.
But he volunteered to let another judge decide the case. Defense lawyers Jay Ferguson, Malcolm Hunter and Ken Rose insisted it was illegal for the state to put their clients back on death row, calling it a form of unconstitutional double-jeopardy but they were put back on death row at Central Prison.
The defendants were all involved in notorious local murders. Golphin and his younger brother, Kevin Golphin, shot and killed Cumberland County Deputy Sheriff David Hathcock and State Trooper Ed Lowry during a traffic stop on Interstate 95 in 1997. Quintel Augustine was convicted of murdering Fayetteville Police Officer Roy Turner Jr. on a street corner near downtown in 2001. Robinson and an accomplice kidnapped, robbed and murdered teenager Erik Tornblom in 1991. Christina Walters led a gang that kidnapped three women and shot them execution-style in a gang-related initiation. Tracy Lambert and Susan Moore died. The third victim, who was dumped on the Fort Bragg Reservation survived.
Ammons did not prosecute or preside over the trials in any of the cases.