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Capital Punishment in the United States Explained

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In our Explainer series, Fair Punishment Project lawyers help unpackage some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines - like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine - so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers monthly to keep them current. Read our updated explainer here.
To beat the clock on the expiration of its lethal injection drug supply, this past April, Arkansas tried to execute 8 men over 1 days. The stories told in frantic legal filings and clemency petitions revealed a deeply disturbing picture. Ledell Lee may have had an intellectual disability that rendered him constitutionally ineligible for the death penalty, but he had a spate of bad lawyers who failed to timely present evidence of this claim -…

Already Facing Death, Dylann Roof Cuts Deal for Added Life Term

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof
Eleven weeks after a federal jury condemned Dylann S. Roof to death for killing nine worshipers at a black church in Charleston, S.C., state prosecutors announced on Friday that they would end a separate case by allowing him to plead guilty to murder in exchange for a life sentence.

After the Bible study massacre in June 2015 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the state and federal governments each announced they would seek to execute the avowed white supremacist.

A state grand jury indicted him for murder and attempted murder while a federal grand jury charged him with 33 counts, including hate crimes resulting in death, obstruction of exercise of religion and use of a firearm to commit murder.

Mr. Roof said in a remorseless confession and in various writings that he planned the attack in hopes of fomenting a race war.

But federal prosecutors beat their state counterparts to court, leaving Scarlett A. Wilson, the chief prosecutor for Charleston County, to decide whether to put survivors and victims’ families through a second traumatic trial, at taxpayer expense, in pursuit of a duplicate sentence.

As had been expected since the end of the federal trial in January, Ms. Wilson concluded that the 18 death sentences from that case would suffice.

Last year, the Justice Department rejected Mr. Roof’s offer to plead guilty to the federal charges in exchange for a life sentence. Mr. Roof, who represented himself for part of his case and presented no evidence in his defense during his federal trial, has filed a motion in federal court seeking a new trial.

Ms. Wilson announced her decision in a letter and telephone calls to family members of the victims. Mr. Roof’s state public defender, D. Ashley Pennington, confirmed the details.

Ms. Wilson said in an interview that Mr. Roof, 22, would plead guilty at a hearing on April 10 to nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder (two adults and a child survived). He then would be transferred from the Charleston County jail to a federal prison.

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Source: The New York Times, Kevin Sack, March 31, 2017

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