Dylann Roof, the man accused of killing nine black attendants in a South Carolina Church, will face the death penalty when he goes on trial in October. The authorities have deemed the crime a racially motivated hate crime and should therefore require the most serious punishment available.
“This was the ultimate crime, and justice from our state calls for the ultimate punishment,” said Solicitor Scarlett Wilson in a statement read outside her Charlestown office. She filed the necessary paperwork shortly thereafter.
In addition to the South Carolina charges, Roof will have to face a federal court for violating US hate crime laws. Prior to the shooting, Roof posted various content online filled with racial slurs that encouraged racial violence and denounced integration.
The federal prosecutors have not determined whether or not they would pursue the death penalty as a possible punishment.
However, not all of the victims’ families agree with capital punishment. Many have even prayed to God for mercy on the 21-year-old’s soul.
“In the big picture, if you see why these people are involved, it’s because they were in a church on a Wednesday evening at Bible study,” said Andy Savage, a Charleston attorney representing some of the survivors and victims’ families. “They’re not Sunday Christians. They’re 24-7 Christians. They believe in the sanctity of life. They believe in forgiveness. … So for them, to not be proponent of the death penalty is no surprise.”
For her part, Ms. Wilson has said she understands the families desire to forgive, however, forgiveness will not eradicate the widespread consequences of Roof’s actions. Moreover, Roof’s distinct lack of remorse for his actions could indicate that given the opportunity, he would attack again.
“Making such a weighty decision is an awesome responsibility,” said Ms Wilson. “People who have already been victimized should not bear the burden of making the decisions on behalf of an entire community. They shouldn’t have to weigh the concerns of other people. They shouldn’t have to consider the facts of the case.”
Ms. Wilson’s filing in no ways guarantees Roof will face such a penalty. Or even that he will go to trial. More often than not, solicitors use the possibility of the death penalty as a bargaining chip to force the defendant to plead guilty and to accept life in prison without parole.
Roof’s lawyers have not commented on Ms. Wilson’s filing. Yet in the past, they have mentioned the possibility of Roof pleading guilty to the hate crime charges.
Professor Colin Miller, an expert on criminal law at the University of South Carolina School of Law, argues that because of all the media attention given to the shooting, it would be impossible for Ms. Wilson to not seek the death penalty.
“This has to be understood as part of a continuum,” said Miller. “In this case, likely this was viewed as the only acceptable path that was to be taken by the solicitor.”
Ultimately, Mr. Savage said, the families of the victims want Roof to be punished in some way for his crimes.
“They want a conviction, and they want this guy to disappear and never to see civilization again,” said Mr. Savage. “And hopefully that is because he’s going to have to live in a six-by-nine cell.”