America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Dylann Roof's attorney OKs request for mental evaluation, pushes back on witness lists

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof
Defense attorneys for Dylann Roof, the 22-year-old white man accused of killing 9 black parishioners during a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church, say they will allow state prosecutors to conduct their own mental evaluation of Roof.

In a hearing last month, the solicitor's office asked to conduct its own mental evaluation of Roof to rebut or confirm the findings from a pair of evaluations performed by the defense team's experts.

The state trial, originally slated to begin in July, has been pushed back to January 2017 to allow the defense's experts to complete 6 months of further exams and reports on Roof's mental state.

On Wednesday, Roof's attorney Ashley Pennington agreed to the request, with three caveats: the report on Roof's mental state remains sealed from prosecutors until the sentencing phase of the trial; Roof's attorneys will be in the room during the evaluation and can object to questions; and anything Roof says pointing to his guilt in the shooting cannot be included in the report.

However, Pennington pushed back against requests for lists of expert and general witnesses.

Pennington said he "has no objection to providing to the court to further the goal of selecting a fair and unbiased jury." But Pennington says with the trial some 7 months away and the investigation ongoing, he does not have a complete list of witnesses outside those the solicitor's office plans to call to testify.

Further, Pennington says giving a list of experts and general witnesses he plans to call during Roof's defense would give prosecutors an advantage beyond normal trial discovery.

Instead, he asked the court to follow the precedent set in the 1995 Susan Smith trial in which prosecutors and defense attorneys provided witness lists to the judge who then passed them out to potential jurors to make sure there were no conflicts of interest.

"Following the same procedure here would help ensure the seating of a fair and impartial jury without requiring premature disclosure of the defendant's prospective witnesses to the state," Pennington wrote.

Roof is accused of killing nine black parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston. He faces a number of murder and attempted murder charges for the shooting and prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty.

Roof also faces nearly 3 dozen federal hate crimes charges, but the Attorney General's office has not yet announced whether it will seek the death penalty also. As a result, that decision has caused a delay in scheduling the federal trial.

Roof's attorneys at the state and federal level have said multiple times that Roof is willing to plead guilty if prosecutors remove the possibility of death as a sentence.

Source: WCIV news, May 13, 2016

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