FAYETTEVILLE — Walking in to the courtroom, there was an obvious presence of state troopers, highway patrolman, and police officers. Over three-fourths of the room was filled with the uniformed officers. The rest of the room was filled with news reporters and family members of the murderers who had filed the Racial Justice Act claims. Each officer had immaculate posture and a stern look on his or her face. At 10 a.m. when the ruling was supposed to start everyone who was not in uniform began to get antsy. When was the decision over the fate these three convicted murders going to take place? Is Judge Greg Weeks going to say that race was a factor? What will the reaction be to the decision?
At 10:17 a.m., the bailiff called the court to order. The three murderers were already seated with their lawyers and at least seven guards with body armor behind them with all eyes on what was about to happen.
10:18 a.m.: The families of the murder victims were brought into the courtroom and faced the ones who killed their loved ones and been proven guilty, but now were claiming that race played a part in their case. It has been 15 years since the crimes took place and the family members have been put through a nightmare of trials, appeals, and constant reminders of what had happened to their family. Each family member was hoping that the issue would be laid to rest and justice would be served.
Judge Weeks began his speech with his ruling that race did play a factor in the case. At 10:38 a.m. he stated that “the defendants are entitled to have their sentences reduced.” I pondered the word “entitled.” These are convicted killers who admitted to murdering people. Tilmon Golphin was fleeing a crime when he and his brother gunned down two lawmen. Quintel Augustine taunted a policeman on patrol, then shot him dead when he got out of his car. Christina Walters took part in a gang initiation in which two young women were killed; Walters shot another woman eight times, but she survived. How are the people who committed such crimes entitled to special rights?
10:39 a.m.: Tears began to roll down my face when I saw slain Highway Patrol Sgt. Ed Lowry’s wife get up and leave the courtroom. She began to say something but what moved me the most was that all the uniformed officers walked out with her to show their support for their fallen brother. The support from that community was felt by all in and out of the courtroom.
It was done. The decision had been made. Looking around at who was in the court room you had a wide range of emotions. The man beside me was quiet with hands shaking. I felt paralyzed that people who had taken numerous lives were now given a slap on the wrist. Tears started falling down my face again when I saw a man laughing. I assume this man was with the convicted murders and was laughing because he believed that someone should get away with murder and not expect a consequence. I left the court room because I wanted to support the families who I had just talked to on Tuesday and now felt a bond to represent them and their family. My thought, prayers, and condolences are going out to the families through this horrendous time.
Under Judge Weeks’ ruling, Golphin, Walters and Augustine escaped the death penalty and will instead get life sentences without the possibility of parole.
Three people were given leniency because they think that race played a role in their case. But how could this be? The racial aspects of the crimes varied. Golphin is black; his two victims (including Lowry) were white. Augustine is black; so was the policeman he gunned down. Walters is an American Indian; the woman she shot eight times was black, and the other two women her gang killed were white.
All the accused were tried in court, where they were proven guilty. There was another trial where twelve people unanimously decided that the sentence should be death. There were federal, state, and other appellate courts that all agreed that the case was handled correctly and agreed upon the given sentence. More questions are going to be thought of by anyone affected in this case in the days to come. Maybe most of all: Will the nightmare ever end for these families?