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

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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…

Roof's mental state emerging as key issue in Charleston church killings

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof
State of mind would come into play when jurors weight death penalty or life in prison without parole

The mental state of Dylann Roof of Columbia, an avowed white supremacist, has emerged as a key issue in his upcoming federal death penalty trial for killing 9 African-American church members.

Prosecutors and defense lawyers discussed procedural issues connected to Roof's state of mind at a hearing Monday before U.S. Judge Richard Gergel without revealing details about what conditions he might have.

Roof, 22, is scheduled to go on trial Nov. 7 for the hate crime killings at Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston.

Before the June 2015 church shootings, Roof published a manifesto on the Internet in which he said he was going to start a race war.

His state of mind would come into play when jurors deliberate whether to recommend the death penalty or life in prison without parole.

His lead attorney, David Bruck, has repeatedly said Roof will plead guilty in return for a sentence of life without parole.

That offer came after Roof confessed to law enforcement to killing the 9 parishioners during a Bible study meeting, with evidence against him also appearing to be overwhelming. The gun that Roof is said to have used has been recovered.

Much of the hearing was devoted to discussing when and how much of the results of separate pre-trial mental tests of Roof conducted by the prosecutors and defense lawyers would be divulged to each other in advance of the death penalty phase of the trial.

Evidence offered by defense lawyers against the death penalty is called "mitigation" evidence. Much of that, according to the discussion and filings, will revolve around results of current and future mental health tests of Roof.

Bruck agreed when Gergel asked "Am I right to say they (Roof's mitigation defenses) would fall under the broad umbrella of mental health issues?"

It is unknown what type of mental health issues will be presented at trial.

As part of the pre-trial jockeying by opposing lawyers, the timing of when to give mental health test results to the other side is a key issue.

Gergel ordered mental health examinations to be videotaped, but said he will decide later whether to delete some sections of video - as opposed to the audio - if thought to infringe on Roof's right to a fair trial.

Jury selection is scheduled to start Nov. 7. The trial is expected to go through Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons.

Roof, who waived his right to appear in court Monday, is scheduled to go to trial in state court in mid-January. Solicitor Scarlett Wilson is also seeking the death penalty on murder charges.

Gergel ordered Monday that the jury pool in the upcoming federal trial will be drawn from an area roughly south of a line from Georgetown County on the coast to Aiken County.

More than 20 relatives of those killed were at the hearing.

Source: thestate.com, July 19, 2016


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