Attorneys for Dylann Roof, the man charged with killing nine people at a church in Charleston in June 2015, are challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty filed by federal prosecutors against him.
Roof’s lawyers filed a motion Monday stating that the death penalty and federal death penalty law violate the 5th and 8th Amendments, as reported by CBS News.
Dylann Roof, 22, is accused of killing nine people at an African American church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015. Charged with 33 federal offenses, Roof was accused of killing his victims on account of their race. He was allegedly inspired by the Trayvor Martin shooting and had been seen decorating himself with white supremacy and Neo-Nazi symbols on his personal website.
“The nature of the alleged crime and the resulting harm compelled this decision,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in May, explaining the resolution to pursue the death penalty against Roof.
Roof, a high school dropout, is charged with shooting people participating in a Bible study class at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston on June 17, 2015. The Church’s pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state senator, also died in the shootings.
Dylann Roof was captured in North Carolina a day after the shootings. He reportedly told the police that he wanted to start a race war.
Roof’s attorneys described the facts of the case as “indisputably grave” in its motion to challenge the death penalty.
“The facts of this case are indisputably grave. But if, as we contend here, the FDPA [Federal Death Penalty Act] is unconstitutional, no one can be lawfully sentenced to death or executed under it, no matter what his crimes.”
The defense team wrote in the motion that they are seeking to raise “only questions related to the death penalty” based on the “government’s decision to seek the defendant’s execution rather than accepting his proffered pleas of guilty and willingness to accept multiple sentences of life imprisonment without possibility of release.”
Roof’s lawyers added that their client will “withdraw this motion and plead guilty as charged to all counts in the indictment” if federal prosecutors withdraw the death penalty.
As such, the defense team mentioned several reasons for challenging the federal death penalty, explaining that it’s “unconstitutional” and that the “arbitrary, cruel and unusual punishment” is a violation of the fifth and eight Amendments.
“The [Federal Death Penalty Act] may have been designed with as much care as possible under the circumstances, the capital sentencing process that the statute provides is constitutionally inadequate in practice. The results of jurors’ good-faith grappling with the law – arbitrary, biased, and erroneous death verdicts – are intolerable as a matter of due process and proportional punishment,” it added.
They also added that many states have already abolished capital punishment on account of the reasons they’ve already mentioned.
“This court should declare the FDPA (Federal Death Penalty Act) unconstitutional and order that this case proceed as a non-capital case,” defense attorneys stated in the motion.
Dylann’s lawyers also referenced the Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA) in the prosecution, while pointing out that the legislation considered capital punishment but rejected it in the end, as reported by Complex.
Roof also challenged the jury selection process, which demands votes from a group of people saying yes to the death penalty. This occurred after prosecutors shot down his offer to plead guilty on the condition that they drop their pursuit of a possible death sentence.
Dylann Roof is expected to face a death penalty trial next year in a state court in respect to the June 2015 shootings at Emanuel AME Church. No official date has been set for the federal trial yet.
[Photo by Grace Beahm/The Post And Courier via AP, Pool, File]