An apparently unprecedented public protest over who goes first – state or federal prosecutors – in Dylann Roof’s upcoming death penalty trials broke out in Charleston on Tuesday.
The protest was made by 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, who filed an emotional plea in state circuit court, arguing that the state – and not federal prosecutors – should put Roof on trial first for the June 2015 murders of nine parishioners at a downtown Charleston church.
By the time federal prosecutors announced they would seek the death penalty, a month ago on May 24, Wilson for 10 months already had planned to put Roof on trial on Jan. 17, a date set by state Circuit Judge John Nicholson.
But then, on June 7, U.S. Judge Richard Gergel of Charleston announced that Roof’s federal death penalty trial would begin Nov. 7 and last up to eight weeks, not including Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.
Wilson asserted the disruption to her schedule was done “at the urging of” Roof’s lawyers handling his defense in state and federal court.
A host of needless jurisdictional complications arise if federal prosecutors go first, but another serious complication is that the federal government really isn’t serious about carrying out a death penalty against Roof, even if it convinces a jury to vote for execution, Wilson said.
“The United States has not carried out a death sentence since March 2003,” Wilson wrote. “The State can have no confidence that the U.S. will ever seek to carry out a death sentence.”
South Carolina “would actually carry (a death sentence) out,” Wilson wrote.
Wilson added that “the outcome of the federal trial has little or no relevance to (Roof’s) ultimate fate.”
Commenting on Wilson’s memorandum, a Roof federal defense attorney, David Bruck, released this statement Tuesday: “Solicitor Wilson’s statement that any federal trial won’t affect what actually happens to Dylann Roof is absurd and irresponsible.
“It’s absurd because it assumes that, if a federal jury imposes the death penalty, our state would block the federal government from carrying it out. That has never happened, and it never will.
“Such absurd claims are irresponsible because they risk misleading potential jurors into thinking that their sentencing verdict won’t actually have any effect.
“Solicitor Wilson’s wish to prosecute the state case first does not justify her reckless misstatements about how the justice system works, and she should stop making them.”