Church shooting attorney calls state prosecutor 'reckless'

AP News
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Posted: Jul 07, 2016 4:07 PM

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — An attorney for the man facing dual death-penalty trials in the shootings of nine churchgoers in South Carolina says a state prosecutor's desire to go to trial before federal authorities is "reckless and shortsighted."

Public defender Ashley Pennington also said that if Solicitor Scarlett Wilson wants justice, she should accept Dylann Roof's offer to plead guilty to murder in exchange for a life sentence.

"If the Solicitor were truly concerned with certainty and finality, she would be satisfied with an agreed-upon federal trial schedule, rather than seeking a speeded-up and unworkable new trial schedule in the State Court," Pennington wrote in a state court filing on Wednesday.

"Or she could immediately achieve both certainty and finality by accepting the defendant's longstanding offer to plead guilty as charged to all counts in state court, and accept a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole," he wrote.

The arguments mirror statements in Roof's federal hate crimes case, where his defenders also want prosecutors to drop the death penalty and accept a guilty plea.

Last month, federal defense attorney David Bruck said Wilson was being reckless by arguing that the state has no confidence a federal death sentence would be carried out because 13 years have passed since the last federal execution. That position could mislead potential federal jurors to believe their sentencing verdict would have no effect, he wrote.

Roof, a 22-year-old white man who talked of sparking a race war, is accused of slaying nine black people inside the historic Emanuel AME Church, where parishioners had welcomed him into their Bible study. He's expected in court for a state hearing next week; his next federal hearing is July 18.

In her first statement as South Carolina's top federal prosecutor, acting U.S. Attorney Beth Drake posted an open letter online to survivors and relatives of the shooting victims, saying that both the federal and state governments are seeking justice in their prosecutions against Roof.

Drake called Wilson a "terrific, capable, smart and excellent trial lawyer" who also at one point worked as a federal prosecutor. While it may seem that state and federal officials disagree at times, she wrote, "at the end of the day, we are all after the same thing — justice."

In other legal action surrounding the church shootings, the federal government has until July 26 to respond to lawsuits filed by some of the survivors accusing the FBI of errors that enabled Roof to buy the .45-caliber handgun used in the shootings.

FBI Director James Comey has said Roof should not have been able to buy the gun. Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon told The Associated Press last summer that a clerk entered incorrect information for Roof's prior drug arrest, preventing an FBI examiner from confirming it within the 3-day window for background checks.

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/