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Dylann Roof fights death penalty for Charleston church shooting

Dylann Roof fights death penalty for Charleston church shooting

Lawyers for alleged mass murderer Dylann Roof are fighting the Justice Department’s effort to seek the death penalty in his case, calling the punishment unconstitutional.

In a filing late on Monday, Roof’s attorneys ignored allegations that the 22-year-old white nationalist killed nine people in a historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C., last year and instead attacked the government’s right to put inmates to death under any circumstance.

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“The death penalty — in and of itself — constitutes an unconstitutional punishment,” Roof’s lawyers claimed.

“This court should rule that the federal death penalty constitutes a legally prohibited, arbitrary, cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by both the Fifth and Eighth Amendments," they added.

“[N]o one can be lawfully sentenced to death or executed under it, no matter what his crimes.”

Among other arguments, Roof’s legal team pointed to evidence that juries in capital cases sometimes misunderstand what they may consider as part of their judgment and claimed a policy of excluding opponents of the death penalty from jury pools in those cases deprives defendants of their right to a fair trial.

They also noted that Congress declined to include the death penalty as a possible punishment under a 2009 hate crimes law. As such, seeking the death penalty for Roof’s crimes would amount to disregard for the wishes of Capitol Hill, the lawyers claimed, and a violation of the separation of powers.

Roof has been accused of gunning down nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last June in what has been described as a hate crime. Ahead of the alleged massacre, Roof is believed to have visited white supremacist websites and authored a racist screed on the internet.

A grand jury last year indicted him on 33 charges of federal hate crimes and firearms violations.

Following the indictment, the Justice Department announced that it would seek the death penalty.  

Lawyers made the Monday filing after federal prosecutors refused to offer Roof a deal whereby he would plead guilty in order to avoid the death penalty.

If the Justice Department changes course to offer such a deal, Roof's lawyers wrote, “Mr. Roof will withdraw this motion and plead guilty as charged to all counts in the indictment.”