Diary

Another political trial begins

From The Wall Street Journal:

Federal Trial Over Charleston Church Mass Shooting Set to Begin

Dylann Roof said he would plead guilty if death penalty had been ruled out

By Cameron McWhirter and Valerie Bauerlein | November 6, 2016 7:22 a.m. ET

Dylann Roof faces the death penalty in a monthslong federal trial beginning Monday in Charleston, S.C., less than a mile from the historic “Mother Emanuel” church where he is accused of killing nine black worshipers last year at Bible study.

The trial is expected to revive painful memories of the mass killing, and reopen debate over the appropriate use of the death penalty.

Mr. Roof, 22 years old, has said he would plead guilty and face life in prison, avoiding a costly and lengthy trial, if the death penalty were taken off the table. Mr. Roof’s attorneys have argued in hearings and court filings that the death penalty is unconstitutional and its application is so flawed that it shouldn’t be considered.

Federal prosecutors say the racial motivation and the scope of harm require use of the death penalty.

A couple of paragraphs further down comes the important part:

The federal trial, which focuses on hate-crime charges based on race and religion, is the first of two death-penalty trials. A second trial in state court focuses on murder charges and is expected next year.

There’s more at the original, but the obvious question, for me, is: why bother with a federal trial at all? Why not let the state trial, for several counts of murder, proceed? If convicted in state court, Mr Roof will be sentenced either to death, or to life in prison without the possibility of parole. South Carolina has executed 43 criminals since the reinstitution of capital punishment, and has only 43 men on death row currently, so it’s not like Mr Roof would be all that likely to avoid execution in South Carolina is sentenced to death.

The Journal story makes it obvious to me: this is a political trial. The Obama Administration wants to make this about a “hate crime,” using the mass murder to try to make a political statement, rather than simply allow Mr Roof to stand trial for murdering nine people.

A “monthslong federal trial,” as the Journal described it, will costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, perhaps over a million, and is simply a waste of money. The state trial, which will focus on the very simple question of whether Mr Roof murdered nine people, will be shorter, less expensive, and will result in the same sentence: either life without parole, or death, if Mr Roof is convicted. The state won’t be worried about Mr Roof’s mental attitude or whether he hated black people; the state will simply be concerned about whether he was the one who committed the crime.

But, for the Obama Administration — which will, thank God, be out of office by the time the trial is over — the punishment to be meted out to Mr Roof isn’t the important thing; what the Justice Department wants is to make a political statement.

In 2009, Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a mostly ridiculous piece of legislation. Messrs Shepard and Byrd were murdered, in widely separated incidents, in 1998, in crimes generally described as being due to hatred among the killers, of homosexuality (in Mr Shepard’s case) or blacks (in the killing of Mr Byrd). There were no hate crimes statures applicable in either case, and the killers were all tried not for hate crimes, but for murder. The result: all three men tried for Mr Byrd’s killing were convicted, two of them were sentenced to death,¹ while the third was sentenced to life in prison.² Both men charged with the killing of Mr Shepard received two consecutive life sentences.³ Simply put, the killers all received what were the appropriate sentences, in state trials, without any recourse to hate crimes laws. There’s just no more that they could be punished than to what they’ve already been sentenced.

But, for the left, that’s not the goal. The left don’t really care about what punishment the individuals who committed crimes receive, but about the optics, about the political statements which can be made, and they sure don’t care about wasting taxpayer dollars to make those statements. To me, the deaths of Mr Byrd and Mr Shepard matter neither more nor less than the murders of a known-only-to-his-family-and-friends kid in Chicago or Philadelphia over the weekend. To me, a man murdered because he was black is no deader than a man killed because someone was trying to steal his wallet, and the law, and the government, shouldn’t treat their killings any differently.
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Cross-posted on The First Street Journal.
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¹ – Lawrence Brewer was executed on September 21, 2011, while John William King is still appealing his capital sentence.
² – Shawn Bailey is eligible for parole on June 7, 2038, at which time he would be 63 years old.
³ – One defendant pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty, while the other went to trial, facing a capital sentence, but Mr Shepard’s parents intervened during the penalty phase following conviction, arguing that their son was opposed to capital punishment, and Aaron McKinney also received two consecutive life sentences.