Prosecutor Fears Dylan Roof May Escape Death Penalty

Associated Press

A federal trial for the man charged in the slayings of nine Black church members is unlikely to deliver the death penalty and he should be tried in state court first, where there is a better chance for capital punishment, a prosecutor said.

Dylann Roof, 22, faces possible death sentences in state court, where he is charged with murder, and in federal court, where he is charged with hate crimes and other counts. The charges stem from the slayings of nine Black parishioners during a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in June 2015.

Roof, who is White, posed with the Confederate battle flag before the killings and talked of trying to start a race war.

Currently, the federal trial is set for November while the state case is scheduled for January.

“The federal government’s track record suggests an unwillingness to carry out a death sentence,” prosecutor Scarlett Wilson wrote in court documents filed late Tuesday.

She renewed her request that judges in the state and federal cases get together and set a trial schedule that lets South Carolina try Roof first.

Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson, the state judge, has set a hearing on the matter Wednesday.

Wilson said the federal government hasn’t carried out a death sentence in years. The last person executed by the federal government was in 2003.

“A federal trial may be unnecessary to achieve justice for Roof if a state trial results in a death sentence since the state sentence would be carried out before any federal sentence,” the documents said.

Public Defender Ashley Pennington, who is defending Roof in state court, said earlier that if Wilson wants justice, she should accept Dylann Roof’s offer to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence. Roof’s attorneys in the federal case have made a similar offer.