Charleston killer Dylann Roof guilty on all counts, eligible for death penalty

What’s the argument against execution on the facts? If you’re opposed to capital punishment in principle, okay, but if you’re not, is there any reason to spare Roof? He murdered nine people in cold blood. He plotted the crime meticulously, scouting the church at least half a dozen times. The victims collectively were pierced by more than 60 bullets, hard proof that he meant to kill, not just wound. There’s not a shadow of a doubt that he pulled the trigger. He wasn’t insane.

The only fact-specific case to be made, I think, that Roof should have gotten life is that he offered to plead guilty in return for that sentence but the government rejected the plea bargain, insisting on going to trial to seek death. That’s within their discretion. They did it in this case, it seems, to send a message that the lives of black victims murdered by a white perp, especially one motivated by racial hatred and especially given the history of racial justice in the old south, aren’t worth less than the lives of white victims. If Roof finds that unfair — a white supremacist complaining of bias after he murdered nine black people would be rich — he should have considered the risk before loading his weapon.

The jury convicted Mr. Roof of nine counts of hate crimes resulting in death, three counts of hate crimes involving an attempt to kill (there were three survivors), nine counts of obstructing the exercise of religion resulting in death, three counts of that charge with an attempt to kill, and nine counts of using a firearm to commit murder during a crime of violence…

The jury reached its verdict hours after hearing closing arguments in the case. The outcome seemed a foregone conclusion from the first minutes of the trial, which began on Dec. 7 and included a swift acknowledgment from the chief defense lawyer, David I. Bruck, that Mr. Roof was responsible for the “astonishing, horrible attack” on June 17, 2015…

As he has throughout the trial, Mr. Bruck responded by planting suggestions that Mr. Roof was mentally unstable, and thus not fully accountable. He peppered his closing statement with words like “abnormal,” “irrationality,” “senselessness,” “illogical,” “obsessive,” “delusional,” and “suicidal.” Mr. Roof told the F.B.I. in a confession shortly after being arrested that he had saved ammunition to kill himself if, as he expected, he confronted the police when he left the church.

The interesting racial question in the sentencing phase of this case will be how whites and blacks split on capital punishment. You might assume that support for executing Roof would be higher among blacks in particular than it is for defendants in other death-penalty cases. Not so, says Ellis Cose:

Henderson Hill, former director of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in North Carolina, acknowledges that a death penalty verdict would be “so very easy with these facts.” But he questions using the case to “breathe life into this old relic of a penalty” that was historically “part of the toolkit to oppress marginalized communities.” Henderson also wonders about the wisdom of putting the community — and the already traumatized families — through the ordeal of at least one and possibly two long trials just so the state can claim Roof’s scalp.

A majority of blacks in the region feel much the same. A poll by Monique Lyle and Robert Oldendick of the University of South Carolina found that 65% of black Americans in South Carolina think Roof should receive life without parole. In contrast, 64% of whites think he should die. Those findings have less to do with Roof than with most blacks’ opposition to the death penalty. Whereas 68% of whites favor the death penalty, according to Gallup, only 39% of blacks favor it.

It’s not altogether clear why. Professor Lyle initially assumed the opposition stemmed from “perceived biases in the criminal justice system.”

People of both races may be treating Roof’s fate as a way to make a statement about their broader convictions. Whites want to show that they really do want equal treatment for blacks under the law, including black victims. If a black perp gets death for shooting nine whites, Roof deserves death for shooting nine blacks. Blacks, though, may be seeing this as an opportunity to send a message about the death penalty writ large. Even Dylann Roof doesn’t deserve this, they may be saying, and if Roof doesn’t deserve it, no other defendant deserves it either. The sentencing phase is set for January 3rd.