Feds: Judge shouldn’t let church defendant ask mercy of jury

Federal prosecutors say Dylann Roof should not be allowed to ask the jury for mercy during his upcoming trial in the Charleston church shootings.

In documents filed Tuesday, prosecutors say that while a defendant can ask a judge for mercy, appeals courts have held a defendant doesn’t have a right to ask a jury for mercy before sentencing. Prosecutors say U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel should not permit Roof to do so.

The 22-year-old Roof faces death penalty trials in both state and federal courts stemming from the June 2015 slayings at Emanuel AME Church in which nine people were killed during a Bible study. Three parishioners survived.

Roof’s federal trial on hate crime and other charges begins in November. Later this month the first of about 3,000 potential jurors will report to the courthouse for preliminary screening. Potential jurors will be asked to fill out questionnaires about what they know of the case.

Both Roof’s state and federal attorneys have said their client is willing to plead guilty and serve a life prison term if prosecutors take the death penalty off the table.

In another motion filed Tuesday, federal prosecutors want Gergel to rule out giving a so-called mercy instruction before jurors decide on Roof’s sentence. A mercy instruction is when jurors are told before they deliberate that, regardless of their findings, they are never required to sentence a defendant to death.

Prosecutors say that during the sentencing phase of the trial federal law allows a defendant a “broad opportunity” to present evidence to mitigate punishment.

Gergel has released eight pages of instructions covering logistics for the trial. It says the names of jurors or prospective jurors will not be revealed to the public or media during the trial and that they will be referred to only by numbers.

Roof’s state trial on nine murder charges is now set for next year.

Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson has ordered the first of 600 prospective jurors to report to the courthouse on Jan. 17. His Tuesday order says the state trial will begin on or after Jan. 30.



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