Federal Prosecutors To Seek Death Penalty Against Dylann Roof For Charleston Shootings

Following in the footsteps of state prosecutors, Federal prosecutors have announced they will seek the death penalty for Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof.

Dylann Roof In Custody

Federal prosecutors announced yesterday that they would seek the death penalty against Dylann Roof, the shooter who killed nine people in an historical African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina last year:

Dylann S. Roof, who is accused of killing nine people during a racially motivated assault last June at a Charleston, S.C., church, will face two death penalty trials after the Justice Department said Tuesday that it would seek his execution.

“Following the department’s rigorous review process to thoroughly consider all relevant factual and legal issues, I have determined that the Justice Department will seek the death penalty,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement about the case against Mr. Roof, who was arrested less than a day after the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historic and predominantly black congregation.

“The nature of the alleged crime and the resulting harm,” Ms. Lynch continued, “compelled this decision.”

In a separate seven-page filing in Federal District Court in Charleston, prosecutors cited nine aggravating factors, including that Mr. Roof had “expressed hatred and contempt towards African-Americans, as well as other groups, and his animosity towards African-Americans played a role in the murders charged in the indictment.”

The prosecutors also wrote that Mr. Roof had “demonstrated a lack of remorse” and that he had “targeted men and women participating in a Bible study group at the church in order to magnify the societal impact” of the attack.

Two defense lawyers, David I. Bruck and Michael O’Connell, declined to comment on Tuesday.

Last year, a federal grand jury returned a 33-count indictment against Mr. Roof, who was accused of hate crimes, weapons charges and obstructing the practice of religion.

He is also facing murder charges in a state court, and the local prosecutor, Scarlett A. Wilson, said last September that she would seek the death penalty.

More from The Washington Post:

Federal prosecutors will seek the death sentence for Dylann Roof, the man accused of killingnine parishioners in a Charleston, S.C., church last year.

“Following the department’s rigorous review process to thoroughly consider all relevant factual and legal issues, I have determined that the Justice Department will seek the death penalty,” Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said in a statement Tuesday. “The nature of the alleged crime and the resulting harm compelled this decision.”

Roof now faces a possible death sentence in two cases set to unfold in South Carolina, as state authorities have also said they will seek the death penalty for him.

In a court document on Tuesday, federal prosecutors outlined a series of factors they said justified a federal death sentence for the June 2015 attacks inside the Emanuel AME Church, describing the shooting as a carefully planned, racially motivated massacre.

They argued in the seven-page filing that Roof, who is white, “demonstrated a lack of remorse,” had specifically targeted the church’s Bible study group to “magnify the societal impact” of the rampage and that “his animosity towards African Americans played a role in the murders.”

In addition, prosecutors highlighted that three of the victims were between the ages of 70 and 87. The federal death penalty statute says that if a victim is particularly young or old, that can be one of the aggravating factors to warrant the death sentence.

The decision announced Tuesday comes less than a month before the first anniversary of the attack, which unfolded inside the historic Charleston church that birthed a slave rebellion and helped incubate the civil rights movement in that city.

Steve Schmutz, a lawyer representing family members of three of the victims, said federal officials held a conference call on Tuesday to inform relatives of the decision. Schmutz said he believed these relatives supported Lynch’s decision.

“Regardless of whether or not you’re for the death penalty, the thought process is this: where else would you have it, if not for here?” Schmutz said.

(…)

David Bruck, an attorney for Roof, had said he would plead guilty to the federal hate crime charges, but also said he could not advise him until federal authorities decided on the death penalty. The judge then entered a “not guilty” plea for Roof at a hearing last summer, essentially a temporary plea until the death penalty decision could be made.

Bruck did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Tuesday.

It was unclear how the death penalty decision announced Tuesday could impact Roof’s plea. A plea can ultimately be used as a way to avoid a death penalty in capital cases.

In perhaps the most famous example, Theodore J. Kaczynski — known as the Unabomber — eventually struck a deal and pleaded guilty the day opening arguments were going to begin in his trial, reversing his longstanding position of pleading not guilty. As a result, he agreed to a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole and evading the death penalty

Given the nature of the charges against Roof and the facts supporting his motive in this case, it’s not at all surprising that the U.S. Attorney would seek the death penalty in this case. Indeed, given the fact that South Carolina prosecutors had already announced that they would be seeking the death penalty it would have been rather unusual for Federal prosecutors to take a different position on the issue. Additionally, as with previous cases, the fact that Roof faces the risk of a death sentence regardless of which venue he is tried in at this point could increase the odds that he would be willing to plead guilty to all the charges against him and accept a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, something that he would be eligible for under both South Carolina and Federal Law in the event that he is not sentenced to death in either venue. Alternatively, of course, Roof could decide not to plead guilty in either venue at this point and proceed to trial, In that situation, there would seem to be little doubt about his guilt on the underlying charges. The only question at that point would be whether the state and Federal juries would sentence him to death. Even if they do, though, it’s not clear how soon Roof would be executed. South Carolina has not executed anyone since 2011 and there are reports that, like many states, South Carolina has been unable to obtain access to the drugs used in an execution for some time now. Similarly, the Federal Government presently has a self-imposed moratorium on executions in place at the moment due to an on going review of the Federal death penalty statute and of the manner in which the Bureau of Prisons carries out executions. It’s unclear how long this review will last.

The next step in both of these cases would be for the matters to proceed toward trial absent a resolution via plea agreements. As things stand right now, there is a trial date set for January 2017 in the state criminal case, but that date could change depending on the resolution of pretrial matters and whether or not either the prosecution or defense determines that they need more time to prepare. In this case, of course, there are few doubts about the guilt phase of the trial but the defense is likely to invest much effort in trying to save their client from the death penalty, including lining up expert witnesses regarding mental health and other issues that could be potential mitigating factors at sentencing. There is no trial date set yet in the Federal case, but this is not unusual given the fact that it is generally the case that Federal prosecutors typically defer to state prosecutors in criminal matters of this type. There will be plenty of time to proceed with the Federal charges against Roof after his state case is resolved, whether that happen via a verdict or a plea arrangement. Until then, with both jurisdictions seeking a death sentence, Roof’s options appear to have run out.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts, Race and Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    I oppose the death penalty for only one reason: the possibility of error.

    Here there is no possibility of error. So, the little monster should just be thankful we don’t get into the whole blood eagle thing.

  2. HarvardLaw92 says:

    Good

  3. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    That pretty much sums up my opposition to the death penalty as well: I’m okay with it as long as there’s absolutely no possibility of error. In this case, there appears to be no possibility of error.

    Bernie Sanders has already expressed his displeasure with the DOJ’s decision.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    @CSK:

    Imagine how pissed off Trump must be; that’s going to cost him a vote.

  5. steve s says:

    The whole death penalty system is wretched and it is certain that scores of innocent people have been put to death. Maintaining the system is a crime. Therefore I oppose it in every instance, including this one.

    Personally, I wouldn’t care if he were raped to death by bull elephants in Musth who were fed medically-dangerous amounts of methamphetamines.

  6. CSK says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Trump’s chagrin will be nothing in comparison to the rage of Trump’s fans on the alt right, to whom Roof is a hero. Stormfront will declare a month of mourning.

  7. bill says:

    @michael reynolds: good point, but i think a week in gen-pop would save us all some time/money- and the little bastard would definitely suffer.

    @CSK: get help for that, it’s not healthy!

  8. CSK says:

    @bill:

    Huh?

  9. Hal_10000 says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Imagine how pissed off Trump must be; that’s going to cost him a vote.

    Ouch (and probably true).

  10. Jenos Idanian says:

    There’s the old argument that the death penalty brings out the worst in society. Here we have our wonderful, enlightened, progressive liberals not just calling for the death penalty, but the cruelest and most unusual means they can find.

    Personally, I just want him dead, but I don’t feel the need to get so savage about it. I have no problem with this guy dying peacefully, through lethal injection or guillotine or firing squad or electrocution or hanging or whatever.

    Why do you people feel the need to not just kill the guy, but find some cruel and unusual way to do it?

    “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

  11. Mu says:

    Unlikely he’s going to be convicted before the election. Trump’s vote is safe for now.

  12. barbintheboonies says:

    Good I would wish that all nutbags like him would be put to death, but don`t prolong it as they usually do If there is no doubt, sentence one day and a week later fry him.

  13. michael reynolds says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    That’s an example of you arguing with straw men of your own construction. You’ve decided all liberals are weepy pansies, and when they aren’t, you imagine you’re exposing hypocrisy. An alternative way of thinking might be to reduce the number of unsupported assumptions clogging your brain, and then see what’s in front of you.

  14. Jenos Idanian says:

    @michael reynolds: I forgot, in your prolonged absence, that you are pretty much a sociopath. Your bloodlust is understandable, and I apologize for thinking otherwise.

    So, why the blood eagle? What about that form of torture appeals to you, and why are you so titillated by the thought of the government carrying that out on people?

  15. Tyrell says:

    @CSK: Yes, I agree about the error part ‘ it seems to happen more than it should. But then there is the problem of a possible escape.

  16. wr says:

    @Jenos Idanian: “Personally, I just want him dead, but I don’t feel the need to get so savage about it.”

    Well, of course not. He only killed black people. Usually this kind of guy you’re running around calling a hero and a victim.

    But of course, only because Doug doesn’t post about him enough.

  17. Jenos Idanian says:

    @wr: Have you EVER responded to what I actually say, instead of what your syphilitic-rotted little brain thinks you see me say?

    Don’t bother answering.

  18. Andre Kenji says:

    I oppose the death penalty for him. He should be sent to Florence, Colorado. That´s FAR WORSE than death.

  19. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Andre Kenji: Jesus Christ, you inhuman monster! I thought “blood eagle” and “raped by elephants” was bad, but sent to Florence, Colorado?

    I think I’d take BOTH the “blood eagle” and “raped by elephants” over Florence, Colorado.

  20. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Andre Kenji: …and that was before I realized that Florence, Colorado was home to the SuperMax.

  21. An Interested Party says:

    Personally, I just want him dead, but I don’t feel the need to get so savage about it. I have no problem with this guy dying peacefully, through lethal injection or guillotine or firing squad or electrocution or hanging or whatever.

    Perhaps Roof could be dispatched in the same way that Trayvon Martin was…

  22. michael reynolds says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    Been binge-watching Vikings. Because that’s my idea of doing a writers conference in a beautiful city. Now, here’s where the outrage comes in: I could watch all the way through season 3 on Netflix. But when I got back home I realized I couldn’t see the final episode without going to iTunes. Now I have to pay to find out whether Ragnar takes Paris or whether the French make a deal. And what about Floki? I mean, he’s a great boat-builder, but he’s also batshit. . .

  23. Passerby says:

    He deserves to be executed — by South Carolina. It has the ability to prosecute and execute him, with no federal intervention.

    The Feds are wasting taxpayer money in bringing a duplicative prosecution. If he were to get the death penalty in state court, I don’t see how the elements the attorney general is supposed to invoke to justify a successive federal prosecution could be present. You only need one death sentence for an execution.

    .

  24. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @bill: I’m not sure that you wouldn’t have a situation where the skinheads went out of their way to protect a “hero of the race wars,” so I shouldn’t imagine that he would have a problem in the prison general population. It’s possible that the fee for protection would be that Dylann might need to be someone’s “prom date,” but that’s a different issue.

  25. Just 'nutha ig'rant cracker says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    (Click)

  26. Jenos Idanian says:

    @michael reynolds: #whitepeoplesproblems

  27. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Passerby: You see, you just don’t understand.
    When people are convicted on federal charges, they’re extra-guilty and extra-punished. And it’s more important that he be found guilty of a “hate crime” than just a regular old crime.

    It’s like the Robert Byrd case in Texas, when Dubya was the governor. It was the height of racism and intolerance and white supremacy that Texas didn’t have a “hate crime” law that they could be charged under. It wasn’t enough that one of the three killers got life in prison in exchange for cooperating, and the other two were sentenced to death (one already dead, one pending); there was no “hate crime” prosecution, and the feds were not involved, so obviously justice was not served.

  28. Franklin says:

    I oppose the death penalty for three reasons:

    1) The possibility of error. (From what I’ve read, this argument can be disregarded in this case.)

    2) The practical fact that it is applied unequally to white vs. black and rich vs. poor. Now it seems clear that Mr. Roof is white, so I’m not worried that the death sentence is being requested due to racism. But the latter discrepancy (rich vs. poor) is likely caused by the amount spent on defense, and it may be applicable here. Will Mr. Roof’s defense explore all avenues (no matter how ridiculous) like expensive lawyers would do – mental illness, being the fall guy for somebody else, etc.?

    3) The practical fact that trying to execute someone is usually more expensive than life in prison. (Yes, this is due to seemingly endless appeals which death penalty advocates would be happy to eliminate. In which case I point back to argument #1 – there’s a very very good reason for appeals.)

    Note that none of my reasons have to do with it being “barbaric” , although I certainly would want the actual killing to be done as humanely as possible (and we have had some failures in that area as well). And I do *not* buy the arguments which say that it is a bad example for the government or society to kill someone.

  29. bill says:

    @CSK: your need to drag trump into this- it’s not healthy. and he’s married to an immigrant, his son in law is Jewish (his daughter converted too) and he employs tons of minorities…..so sure, hang out it “stormfront” if you enjoy it but trump is not any sort of fascist.

  30. An Interested Party says:

    …he’s married to an immigrant, his son in law is Jewish (his daughter converted too) and he employs tons of minorities…

    All of which makes his race-baiting and xenophobia even worse…

  31. CSK says:

    @bill:

    Well, I didn’t introduce Trump to the present discourse; a previous poster did, so perhaps, by your reckoning, he and I are in equal need of treatment. I did, however, agree with that poster’s comment. And, as a matter of easily verifiable fact, Trump was endorsed–heartily–by the neo-Nazi group Stormfront as well as by other white supremacist groups. Dylann Roof was active in Stormfront.

    You may argue that a candidate is not responsible if loathsome people support him. That may, to some extent, be true. But these people are drawn to Trump precisely because of Trump’s “ideas.”

  32. Surreal American says:

    @bill:

    So Trump’s an opportunist and not a real bigot. That’s good to know.

  33. wr says:

    @bill: “your need to drag trump into this- it’s not healthy. and he’s married to an immigrant, his son in law is Jewish (his daughter converted too) and he employs tons of minorities…..so sure, hang out it “stormfront” if you enjoy it but trump is not any sort of fascist.”

    Shorter Bill: “I have absolutely no idea what a fascist is.”

  34. Gustopher says:

    I have no great love for white supremacists or murderers, but I don’t see what good the death penalty would do. He’s not too dangerous to lock up, and the government shouldn’t be in the business of killing its citizens. I don’t want this fool’s blood on my hands, not one drop of it.

  35. SKI says:

    @bill:

    trump is not any sort of fascist

    Let’s just say that he regularly declines to denounce his white nationalist and antisemitic supporters.

    BTW, fascism does not require bigotry. Trump certainly has some fascist impulses in terms of his view of strong man leadership.

    At the end of the day though, I don’t think Trump is a bigot, despite his refusal to disavow bigoted supporters or his rhetoric. I think he is a con-man who figured out that the GOP voters will respond positively to bigotry.

  36. michael reynolds says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    The one thing we can count on: white kills black = Jenos for the defense.

  37. Gustopher says:

    He killed a bunch of people in a church — do the families even want him put to death? I don’t know the details of the church, but they were a pretty normal sect of Christianity of some form, and many of these churches don’t support the death penalty at all.

    Would executing this idiot, racist kid just add to the tragedy for the families of his victims?

  38. Andre Kenji says:

    If he is “spared” from the death penalty he is going to a Supermax prision in Florence, Colorado, until he dies. That´s much worse than executing him, he deserves to rot in a Supermax prision. Death is too good for this POS.

  39. Jenos Idanian says:

    @michael reynolds: You’re supposed to be intelligent, so I’ll presume you’re drunk.

    I said I agreed that this particular vermin should be put to death. I also approved of two of the three men who killed James Byrd being put to death, and I grudgingly accept the third guy getting life in exchange for cooperating against the other two. Where the F do you get me “being for the defense” in either of those cases?

    I will say in this case that the killer sounds a bit more insane than outright evil, like the Byrd killers were, but I’m still in favor of him getting executed.

  40. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Gustopher: He killed a bunch of people in a church — do the families even want him put to death? I don’t know the details of the church, but they were a pretty normal sect of Christianity of some form, and many of these churches don’t support the death penalty at all.

    Would executing this idiot, racist kid just add to the tragedy for the families of his victims?

    That’s not how our system works Note that it’s “State vs.,” not “Families of X vs.” Murder is a crime against society, not an individual. We do not grant victims, or victims’ survivors, any say in the prosecution. That is to remove the “vengeance” aspect from such trials.

    It also, theoretically, cuts down on the possible feedback loop and privatizing justice. It is intended to reduce the chances of people tampering with justice, either by threatening or attacking the victims, or trying to buy off the victims. (That happens a lot in other societies. In some Muslim societies, it’s actually written into the law.)

    A few decades ago, we as a society decided we’d gone too far, and began allowing “victim impact statements” and allowing the victims (or their survivors) to speak about their losses, and offer their wishes for punishment (either way). And I’m old enough to remember how controversial that was. Hoo boy, was that an ugly fight.

    So yeah, the victims (and the victims’ survivors) can express their opinion on the matter, and it will be duly recognized, but it will not have any force behind it.