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'Express lane to death': Texas seeks approval to speed up death penalty appeals, execute more quickly

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Texas is seeking to speed up executions with a renewed request to opt-in to a federal law that would shorten the legal process and limit appeals options for death-sentenced prisoners.
Defense attorneys worry it would lead to the execution of innocent people and - if it's applied retroactively, as Texas is requesting - it could potentially end ongoing appeals for a number of death row prisoners and make them eligible for execution dates.
"Opt-in would speed up the death penalty treadmill exponentially," said Kathryn Kase, an longtime defense attorney and former executive director of Texas Defender Services.
But a state attorney general spokeswoman framed the request to the Justice Department as a necessary way to avoid "stressful delays" and cut down on the "excessive costs" of lengthy federal court proceedings.
Robbie Kaplan, co-founder of the #TimesUp movement, says sweeping changes to laws in recent years have dissuaded attorneys from taking on har…

Bernie Sanders Opposes Death Penalty For Dylann Roof

Bernie Sanders
Bernie Sanders
The senator sticks with his principles.

The Justice Department announced on Tuesday it would seek the death penalty in the case of accused South Carolina mass murderer Dylann Roof.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) opposes the Justice Department's decision to seek the death penalty in the case of Dylann Roof, the accused killer of nine parishioners at a church in South Carolina last year.

The Democratic presidential candidate has long been an opponent of capital punishment, arguing that it doesn't fit with America's moral values or deter crime. And though the circumstances of the Roof case have prompted cries for severe punishment, his campaign reiterated his position in an email to The Huffington Post.

"Sen. Sanders opposes the death penalty," Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs wrote. "He believes those who are convicted of the most horrible crimes should be imprisoned for the rest of their lives without the possibility of parole."

Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced on Tuesday that the Justice Department would seek the death penalty in the Roof case, following a "rigorous review process to thoroughly consider all relevant factual and legal issues." State authorities had earlier said that they would seek the death penalty for Roof, who they allege was motivated by racial animus and carefully planned the massacre at the Emanuel AME Church. Roof is charged both with federal hate crimes and 9 counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder.

Several prominent Republican South Carolina officials praised Lynch's announcement, including Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.)

Less clear, however, was how Democrats would approach the debate, considering the horrific nature of the incident and the national outrage it sparked. President Barack Obama has called capital punishment "deeply troubling" but something he can rationalize.

"There are certain crimes that are so beyond the pale that I understand society's need to express its outrage," he told the Marshall Project in 2015.

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton, likewise, has said she supports the death penalty in "certain egregious cases." Aides to Clinton did not respond to requests for comment on the Roof case.

Source: Sam Stein, Senior Policy Editor, Huffington Post, May 25, 2016


Federal authorities to seek death penalty against Dylann Roof

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof
Nearly a year since gunfire interrupted a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church, federal prosecutors said Tuesday that they will seek the death penalty against Dylann Roof, the 22-year-old suspect in the attack that killed 9 people.

Roof's substantial planning before the assault, his expressions of hatred toward black people and his lack of remorse after the slayings helped drive the decision, a notice in U.S. District Court stated.

The move is a relatively rare one for the federal government since it reinstated capital punishment nearly 3 decades ago. Of thousands of eligible cases since then, the U.S. Attorney's Office has authorized prosecutors to seek execution in about 500.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement that she arrived at the decision after a "rigourous" of the case's factual and legal issues.

"The nature of the alleged crime and the resulting harm compelled this decision," she said.

If he's convicted, Roof will face the ultimate penalty in 2 different courtrooms. In state court, he is set to be tried in January, but his federal trial has not been scheduled.

Surviving victims of the June 17 attack, considered one of the most heinous hate crimes in recent memory, and family members of those who died had differing stances on whether Roof should face execution.

They learned of Lynch's much-awaited decision during a conference call with federal authorities Tuesday afternoon, less than a month before the 1-year anniversary of the shooting. The federal trial has been delayed 4 times as Lynch considered the case.

Steve Schmutz, a Charleston attorney who represents family members of 3 of the slain victims, said the development was not surprising.

"The families will support this decision," he said. "Really, I think the families have mixed emotions about the death penalty. But if it's ever going to be given, this case certainly calls for it."

Roof, an Eastover resident, was indicted in July on 33 federal charges, including the hate crimes. But accusations that he violated the parishioners' right to freely practice a religion are the charges that carry the death penalty.

Officials said he penned an online manifesto about white supremacy before sitting for an hour through the Bible study at the Calhoun Street church, then opening fire.

The shooting left the church's pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and 8 others dead. 3 adult women and 2 children in the church at the time survived without physical wounds.

In the federal notice Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson wrote that Roof's actions met the legal threshold for the death penalty because he intended to kill the people he shot: Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders Daniel Simmons Sr. and Myra Thompson.

The prosecutor also listed 8 aggravating factors, including: multiple deaths, extensive premeditation, the targeting of people more than 70 years old, an intent to incite violence by others, the deaths' impact on the victims' loved ones, endangering the safety of people besides those who were slain, racial motivation and a lack of remorse.

Roof also targeted Emanuel AME, the filing stated, "in order to magnify the societal impact" of the crimes.

Source: The Post and Courier, May 25, 2016

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