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September 7, 2016

Feds file motion seeking to limit how jury might consider mercy in capital trial of Charleston mass murderer Dylann Roof

This new BuzzFeed News article, headlined "Prosecutors Want To Limit Dylann Roof’s Use Of A “Mercy” Defense," provides an effective summary of this interesting motion filed by prosecutors in a high profile federal capital case. Here are the basic details:

Federal prosecutors trying the death penalty case against alleged Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof want to limit the use of “mercy” when he goes on trial later this year.  In a new court filing, prosecutors argue that should Roof be convicted, the jury should determine his sentence based on a weighing of the factors for and against — known as aggravating and mitigating factors — the death penalty.  Roof is accused of fatally shooting nine people inside the historically black Emanuel AME Church on July 17, 2015.

The prosecutors argue that allowing the defendant to instruct the jury that, regardless of their findings, they are never required to sentence someone to death isn’t consistent with the Federal Death Penalty Act.  In arguing against a mercy defense, prosecutors point out that during the sentencing phase of the trial, if it gets to that, the government’s burden is much higher — they must convince the jury to unanimously find that the aggravating factors outweigh the mitigating factors.  The defendant’s burden is “significantly lower” — he needs to convince one juror that there is enough mitigating evidence to merit a sentence less than death, such as life in prison without parole.

In the filing, the prosecution did say that mercy may enter into equation when the jury debates aggravating versus mitigating factors.  “It is within that context, and that context alone, that mercy may enter into the death penalty process,” the prosecution writes....

Earlier this month, the court revealed that 3,000 people were sent jury summonses notifying them that they are being considered to serve on the jury at Roof’s trial.  

This week, a South Carolina circuit court judge set the date for Roof’s state trial, which is expected to be tried after the conclusion of the federal trial.  That case, where Roof is also facing the death penalty, is scheduled to begin in late January 2017.

September 7, 2016 at 07:39 PM | Permalink


Sounds like a needless appeal invitation.

Posted by: Joe | Sep 7, 2016 7:53:27 PM

I read the motion and am singularly unpersuaded. Motion DENIED.

Posted by: anon12 | Sep 7, 2016 10:17:32 PM

I do not understand the idea behind the motion. If the jury believes that death is justified, why would they want to grant mercy? Conversely, if they think mercy should be given, is that not the same as death not being justified?

Posted by: Jr | Sep 8, 2016 6:10:32 AM

Is anyone else troubled that our "Justice" Department has argued that mercy is only relevant if Congress has statutorily authorized it?

Especially knowing that the Justice Department's Office of Legislative Affairs lobbies Congress directly for those statutes' wording?

Posted by: Jay Hurst | Sep 8, 2016 7:44:55 AM

It's kind of like trying to prevent jury nullification with instructions. Dumb.

Posted by: Fat Bastard | Sep 8, 2016 9:33:31 AM

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