Dylann Roof’s attorneys challenge death penalty

CHARLESTON, S.C., Aug. 2 (UPI) — Attorneys in Dylann Roof’s federal trial asked to have the death penalty ruled out as his potential punishment.

Roof, 22, faces 33 federal charges, including hate crime and religious freedom violations and using a firearm to commit murder, in the shooting deaths of nine people inside a Charleston, S.C., church in 2015. In a 40-page motion filed Monday, his attorneys argue the unconstitutionality of the death penalty under the Fifth and Eighth Amendments. They seek the government’s acceptance of Roof’s offer to plead guilty to all 33 charges in exchange for multiple life sentences, a common defense maneuver when the death penalty is under consideration.

“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 motion says.

The lawyers say in the motion that the law, enacted 40 years ago to offer direction in death penalty cases, does not give an adequate definition of a crime deserving the death penalty and arbitrarily leaves the decision to juries and courts.

The motion cites the high rate of error in capital punishment decisions, the arbitrary nature of the sentence and the years of delays involved in execution of a convicted individual.

Judge Richard Gugel did not immediately rule on the motion. Prosecutors have until Aug. 21 to respond to it.

The federal trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 7. A separate, state murder trial is scheduled for January 2017.

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