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Trial by Fire - Did Texas execute an innocent man?

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The fire moved quickly through the house, a one-story wood-frame structure in a working-class neighborhood of Corsicana, in northeast Texas. Flames spread along the walls, bursting through doorways, blistering paint and tiles and furniture. Smoke pressed against the ceiling, then banked downward, seeping into each room and through crevices in the windows, staining the morning sky.
Buffie Barbee, who was eleven years old and lived two houses down, was playing in her back yard when she smelled the smoke. She ran inside and told her mother, Diane, and they hurried up the street; that’s when they saw the smoldering house and Cameron Todd Willingham standing on the front porch, wearing only a pair of jeans, his chest blackened with soot, his hair and eyelids singed. He was screaming, “My babies are burning up!” His children—Karmon and Kameron, who were one-year-old twin girls, and two-year-old Amber—were trapped inside.
Willingham told the Barbees to call the Fire Department, and while Dia…

Roof must have jury in upcoming death penalty trial, judge rules

White supremacist Dylann Roof
White supremacist Dylann Roof
Judge Richard Gergel makes quick decision to deny Roof’s request for death penalty trial by a lone judge

COLUMBIA, SC--Accused Charleston church gunman Dylann Roof will not get a federal death penalty trial decided solely by a judge.

U.S. Judge Richard Gergel ruled Monday that Roof, an avowed white supremacist charged with killing nine African-Americans a year ago at a downtown Charleston church, must have a jury trial.

Last week, Roof and his lawyers told Gergel that he wanted to waive his right to a jury trial. The trial is expected to begin in November.

Federal prosecutors must agree to that request but made it clear in a filing Monday they will not do so.

“The Government advises the Court that it does not consent and, instead, respectfully requests that a jury determine the Defendant’s guilt and appropriate punishment.” assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson wrote.

That objection means Roof’s request won’t be granted, Gergel said.

“Because the Government does not consent to the waiver of a jury at either proceeding, the trial will be conducted by jury, and, should Defendant be found guilty of one or more capital crimes, the sentencing hearing will be conducted before a jury,” the judge said in his decision.

Jury selection in the case is set to begin Nov. 7 with lawyers for both sides posing questions about impartiality to hundreds of potential jurors. Opening arguments will be after a jury of 12 people and six alternates is selected, likely later in November.

Roof, 22, of Columbia, an avowed white supremacist, is accused of federal hate crimes in last June’s slayings of nine African-Americans and the wounding of three others during a Bible study gathering at Charleston’s AME Emanuel Church.

Two high-profile federal death penalty in recent years have both involved juries.

In 1997, a federal jury in Denver recommended a death sentence for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. He was executed in 2001.

In 2015, a Massachusetts jury recommended a death sentence for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. He is appealing his conviction and sentence.

Last year’s massacre of African-Americans in downtown Charleston has similarly captured the nation’s attention. Because of the notoriety of the case, Gergel has suggested that a jury pool of up to 1,500 jurors may be necessary.

Roof is also scheduled to be tried in state court. He also faces the death penalty in trial, set to begin in late January.

Source: The Herald, John Monk, June 14, 2016

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