South Carolina-based The State reports that state prosecutor Scarlett Wilson filed a motion with the court yesterday (June 28) arguing that South Carolina has “primary jurisdiction” and that she should be able to try the case ahead of the Department of Justice. Roof’s federal trial is currently set to begin on November 7, 2016. His case is set to be heard in state court on January 17, 2017.
In South Carolina court, he faces nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder for shooting worshippers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. If found guilty of the crime—which he confessed to—he could receive a death sentence. In U.S. District Court, he will face 33 charges, including hate crimes. Attorney General Loretta Lynch decided to seek the death penalty in that trial as well.
But Wilson, as she wrote in the motion, isn’t convinced the federal court would actually sentence Roof to death:
A precedent State sentence of life or death would likely obviate the need for a second, federal trial. Because of the apparent unwillingness of the United States to implement a sentence of death, the state submits that the outcome of the federal trial has little or no relevance to the defendant’s ultimate fate….
The United States has not carried out a death sentence since March 2003. The State can have no confidence that the United States will ever seek to carry out a death sentence regardless of the state sentence.
The Post and Courier notes that South Carolina has executed 43 people in the last 40 years. Officials have put three federal inmates to death since 1963.
Wilson also argued that a federal case that spans Thanksgiving and Christmas would be difficult for the families of the victims who want to attend proceedings.
David Bruck, one of Roof’s attorneys for his federal case, heartily disagreed with Wilson’s motion via a statement released yesterday:
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.
The decision to work with the federal court to reorder the trials rests in the hands of Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson.