"One is absolutely sickened, not by the crimes that the wicked have committed, but by the punishments that the good have inflicted." - Oscar Wilde

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Federal prosecutors request court prohibit 'mercy instruction' in Roof trial

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof
Prosecutors in the federal trial against accused Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof asked the court to prevent the defendant from introducing a "mercy instruction or related argument" at trial.

If Roof is found guilty of murder in connection with the June 2015 shooting deaths of 9 parishioners of Mother Emanuel AME church, Roof's defense team may request the judge instruct jurors they are "never required" to sentence Roof to death.

"The United States objects to such an argument or instruction on the grounds that it is not consistent with the statutory scheme of the [Federal Death Penalty Act] as properly interpreted by the Fourth Circuit," the motion, filed by federal prosecutor Beth Drake, states.

Prosecutors argue the law already gives jurors complete discretion in determining whether aggravating circumstances outweigh any mitigating factors, and, thereby, whether the death penalty is warranted.

Roof's defense team had not yet responded to the motion.

A decision would likely be made at a future hearing in the case.

Roof faces 33 federal hate crime and weapons charges.

Roof faces 9 murder counts and 3 attempted murder counts under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which prohibits using a dangerous weapon to cause bodily injury or attempting to do so based on race or color.

He is also charged with 9 murders and 3 attempted murders under a 2nd federal hate crime statute that prohibits the use or threat of force to obstruct any person's free exercise of their religious beliefs.

The remaining 9 counts are charges of the use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence, the federal indictment states.

Roof entered a plea of not guilty to the federal charges last July.

Roof's federal trial is set to begin on Nov. 7, 2016.

The shooting claimed the life of Mother Emanuel AME's pastor, State Sen. and the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. In addition to Pinckney, the other victims of the shooting were Tywanza Sanders, the Revs. Sharonda Singleton, DePayne Middleton Doctor, and Daniel Simmons Sr.; and Cynthia Hurd, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, and Susie Jackson.

Source: WCSC news, September 7, 2016

Three federal courtrooms dedicated to Dylan Roof trial in Charleston

The federal courthouse in Charleston will dedicate three courtrooms to Dylann Roof's death penalty trial in November, a judge said Tuesday.

While some seats in the main courtroom will be reserved for victims of the Emanuel AME Church shooting, members of the public will have a daily chance to sit in on the proceedings or watch the trial through closed-circuit television, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said in an order.

Roof is charged with 33 federal counts in the June 2015 attack that killed 9 black worshippers. His trial is expected to start Nov. 7 with jury selection, which could last 3 weeks, Gergel has said. The jury first will consider Roof's guilt, then his punishment - if he's convicted of certain charges - in a separate penalty phase, the trial's lengthiest component.

Juror qualification, the trial's 1st formal phase, will start Sept. 26, when prospective jurors will show up in District Court at 85 Broad St. Those who don't have a valid excuse for not participating will fill out a questionnaire.

The potential jurors are expected to fill Courtroom 6, but people from the public can watch a video and audio feed from an overflow area, Courtroom 4. Seating there is first-come, first-serve.

For the main portion of the trial in early November, when jury selection starts, the courthouse will open an hour and a half before the day's proceedings. Anyone hoping to get in must have a valid government photo identification. No electronics, including cellphones, are allowed.

Again, Courtroom 6 will house the live trial. Half of its 80 seats will be set aside for victims and their loved ones. Still more will be reserved for Roof's family and the news media.

The rest are available to the public. People who get a seat will be issued a courtroom admission pass that's good for the day.

Overflow seating in Courtroom 4 will be first-come, first-serve. The overflow crowd will see the trial on TV screens. A video camera in the live courtroom will capture a view of the witnesses, the attorneys and the judge. They will not show jurors.

Only journalists can apply for credentials for seating in the 3rd courtroom, where cellphones and computers are allowed for live coverage of the trial. But no filming or audio recording of the proceeding is permitted.

With the trial nearing, attorneys in the case also continued Tuesday to weigh in on various unresolved issues.

In a motion, prosecutors argued that Roof should not have a chance during his sentencing to speak to the jury without being sworn in to testify. Such a statement is called "allocution," and it is often used as a plea for mercy or as a chance to apologize.

But prosecutors cannot question the defendants about their statements. Such allocution in death penalty cases is not a right guaranteed by the Constitution or any other law, the prosecutors contended.

Prosecutors also said in a separate motion that jurors should not get a "mercy instruction," or an option to save Roof's life despite factual findings that justify death as the proper punishment.

"Mandating a death sentence based on the outcome of the jury's weighing of aggravating and mitigating factors is permissible," they argued.

Source: The Post and Courier, September 7, 2016

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