Charleston church shooter’s death sentence upheld

Charleston church shooter’s death sentence upheld

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld the conviction and sentence of a man on federal death row for the 2015 racist slayings of nine members of a Black South Carolina congregation.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond affirmed Dylann Roof’s conviction and sentence in the shootings at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

In 2017, Roof became the first person in the U.S. sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. Authorities have said Roof opened fire during the closing prayer of a Bible study at the church, raining down dozens of bullets on those assembled. He was 21 at the time.

In his appeal, Roof’s attorneys argued that he was wrongly allowed to represent himself during sentencing, a critical phase of his trial. Roof successfully prevented jurors from hearing evidence about his mental health, “under the delusion,” his attorneys argued, that “he would be rescued from prison by white-nationalists — but only, bizarrely, if he kept his mental-impairments out of the public record.”

Roof’s lawyers said his convictions and death sentence should be vacated or his case should be sent back to court for a “proper competency evaluation.”

The 4th Circuit found that the trial judge did not commit an error when he found Roof was competent to stand trial and issued a scathing rebuke of Roof’s crimes.

“Dylann Roof murdered African Americans at their church, during their Bible-study and worship. They had welcomed him. He slaughtered them. He did so with the express intent of terrorizing not just his immediate victims at the historically important Mother Emanuel Church, but as many similar people as would hear of the mass murder,” the panel wrote in is ruling.

“No cold record or careful parsing of statutes and precedents can capture the full horror of what Roof did. His crimes qualify him for the harshest penalty that a just society can impose,” the judges wrote.

One of Roof’s attorneys, Margaret Alice-Anne Farrand, a deputy federal public defender, declined to comment on the ruling.

All of the judges in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers South Carolina, recused themselves from hearing Roof’s appeal; one of their own, Judge Jay Richardson, prosecuted Roof’s case as an assistant U.S. Attorney. The panel that heard arguments in May and issued the ruling on Wednesday was comprised of judges from several other appellate circuits.

Following his federal trial, Roof was given nine consecutive life sentences after pleading guilty in 2017 to state murder charges, leaving him to await execution in a federal prison and sparing his victims and their families the burden of a second trial.

President Joe Biden as a candidate said he’d work to end federal executions. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in March that he continues to have “grave concerns” about it.

Biden has connections to the case. As vice president, Biden attended the funeral for one of those slain, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who also pastored the congregation. During his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden frequently referenced the shooting, saying that a visit to Mother Emanuel helped him heal in the aftermath of the death of his son, Beau.

Roof’s attorneys could ask the full 4th Circuit to reconsider the panel’s ruling. If unsuccessful in his direct appeal, Roof could file what’s known as a 2255 appeal, or a request that the trial court review the constitutionality of his conviction and sentence. He could also petition the U.S. Supreme Court or seek a presidential pardon

___

Kinnard reported from Houston.

 

Saving Rodney Reed

Saving Rodney Reed

Video Courtesy of CNN


This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.


Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has joined the fast-growing calls from Texas lawmakers and A-list celebrities to take a closer look at the death sentence of Rodney Reed.

Cruz called efforts to halt the execution of Reed “a remarkable bipartisan coalition” on Friday night, the day before hundreds of people rallied outside the Texas Governor’s Mansion in support of Reed.

“Having spent years in law enforcement, I believe capital punishment can be justice for the very worst murderers,” Cruz tweeted. “But if there is credible evidence there’s a real chance a defendant is innocent, that evidence should be weighed carefully.”

Reed is set for execution on Nov. 20 and has been on death row for more than two decades. His guilt has always been shrouded in doubt, but the attention and calls for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to stop his death has skyrocketed in recent months.

This week, a bipartisan group of 26 Texas House lawmakers sent a letter to Abbott and the parole board asking them to stop Reed’s execution so new evidence can be reviewed. Sixteen state senators penned a similar letter Friday, prompting Cruz’s response.

At Saturday’s rally outside the Governor’s Mansion, dozens of politicians, activists and former death row inmates joined family and other supporters of Rodney Reed to demand a reprieve. “Yes we want a delay, but that’s not our ultimate goal,” national Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King said. “Our ultimate goal is not just to extend his life by 30 days.”

Rodney Reed's cousins Delores Ferguson, center, and Patricia Reed, right sign a clemency letter before a rally in front of the Texas Governor’s Mansion on Nov. 9, 2019, in Austin. Rodney Reed is scheduled for execution Nov. 20, 2019, in Huntsville, for the 1996 strangling of Stacey Stites in Bastrop County. His family and activists are fighting to prove his innocence.

Rodney Reed’s cousins Delores Ferguson, center, and Patricia Reed, right sign a clemency letter before a rally in front of the Texas Governor’s Mansion on Nov. 9, 2019, in Austin. Rodney Reed is scheduled for execution Nov. 20, 2019, in Huntsville, for the 1996 strangling of Stacey Stites in Bastrop County. His family and activists are fighting to prove his innocence. Angela Piazza for The Texas Tribune

A spokesman for Abbott did not immediately respond to questions on Cruz’s statement. And the governor’s office has not responded to previous questions on the Reed case.

The murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites in Bastrop and the subsequent conviction of Rodney Reed has been in the spotlight for more than two decades. Reed, now 51, has consistently maintained his innocence in the 1996 slaying. His lawyers for years have pointed to new evidence they say makes it impossible for Reed to be the killer and instead, they say, puts suspicion on Stites’ fiancé, Jimmy Fennell.

Bastrop County prosecutors and Stites’ family, however, remain confident Reed is guilty.

Both men have been accused of multiple sexual assaults. Reed was indicted but never convicted, in several other rape cases months before his trial in Stites’ death began in 1998. Fennell spent 10 years in prison after he kidnapped and allegedly raped a woman while on duty as a police officer in 2007.

Since Reed’s conviction in Stites’ death, a suspected murder weapon has gone untested for DNA, forensic evidence has been reexamined and new witnesses have come forward. That has led to a growing chorus of voices — including celebrities like Dr. Phil, Kim Kardashian West, Beyoncé and Oprah — to express their belief in Reed’s innocence and plead for Abbott to stop his death.

Reed has appeals pending in federal court on new witnesses and a repeated request to test DNA on the suspected murder weapon, but most attention is directed at Abbott’s role. The Texas governor can delay an execution for 30 days on his own. With a recommendation from the parole board, he may grant a longer reprieve or re-sentence a death row inmate to life in prison.

At Saturday’s rally, King and other speakers said at the very least Reed’s execution must be delayed so there can be more time to look at evidence. But they hope to go much further.

“Rodney Reed is doing what I’m doing, claiming his innocence,” said Juan Melendez, an exonerated death row inmate from Florida. “When I saw Rodney Reed’s mother’s eyes, I saw my mother’s eyes. I saw the pain and suffering she is going through.”

Video Courtesy of Austin American-Statesman

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

Saving Rodney Reed

Saving Rodney Reed

Video Courtesy of CNN


This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.


Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has joined the fast-growing calls from Texas lawmakers and A-list celebrities to take a closer look at the death sentence of Rodney Reed.

Cruz called efforts to halt the execution of Reed “a remarkable bipartisan coalition” on Friday night, the day before hundreds of people rallied outside the Texas Governor’s Mansion in support of Reed.

“Having spent years in law enforcement, I believe capital punishment can be justice for the very worst murderers,” Cruz tweeted. “But if there is credible evidence there’s a real chance a defendant is innocent, that evidence should be weighed carefully.”

Reed is set for execution on Nov. 20 and has been on death row for more than two decades. His guilt has always been shrouded in doubt, but the attention and calls for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott and the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles to stop his death has skyrocketed in recent months.

This week, a bipartisan group of 26 Texas House lawmakers sent a letter to Abbott and the parole board asking them to stop Reed’s execution so new evidence can be reviewed. Sixteen state senators penned a similar letter Friday, prompting Cruz’s response.

At Saturday’s rally outside the Governor’s Mansion, dozens of politicians, activists and former death row inmates joined family and other supporters of Rodney Reed to demand a reprieve. “Yes we want a delay, but that’s not our ultimate goal,” national Black Lives Matter activist Shaun King said. “Our ultimate goal is not just to extend his life by 30 days.”

Rodney Reed's cousins Delores Ferguson, center, and Patricia Reed, right sign a clemency letter before a rally in front of the Texas Governor’s Mansion on Nov. 9, 2019, in Austin. Rodney Reed is scheduled for execution Nov. 20, 2019, in Huntsville, for the 1996 strangling of Stacey Stites in Bastrop County. His family and activists are fighting to prove his innocence.

Rodney Reed’s cousins Delores Ferguson, center, and Patricia Reed, right sign a clemency letter before a rally in front of the Texas Governor’s Mansion on Nov. 9, 2019, in Austin. Rodney Reed is scheduled for execution Nov. 20, 2019, in Huntsville, for the 1996 strangling of Stacey Stites in Bastrop County. His family and activists are fighting to prove his innocence. Angela Piazza for The Texas Tribune

A spokesman for Abbott did not immediately respond to questions on Cruz’s statement. And the governor’s office has not responded to previous questions on the Reed case.

The murder of 19-year-old Stacey Stites in Bastrop and the subsequent conviction of Rodney Reed has been in the spotlight for more than two decades. Reed, now 51, has consistently maintained his innocence in the 1996 slaying. His lawyers for years have pointed to new evidence they say makes it impossible for Reed to be the killer and instead, they say, puts suspicion on Stites’ fiancé, Jimmy Fennell.

Bastrop County prosecutors and Stites’ family, however, remain confident Reed is guilty.

Both men have been accused of multiple sexual assaults. Reed was indicted but never convicted, in several other rape cases months before his trial in Stites’ death began in 1998. Fennell spent 10 years in prison after he kidnapped and allegedly raped a woman while on duty as a police officer in 2007.

Since Reed’s conviction in Stites’ death, a suspected murder weapon has gone untested for DNA, forensic evidence has been reexamined and new witnesses have come forward. That has led to a growing chorus of voices — including celebrities like Dr. Phil, Kim Kardashian West, Beyoncé and Oprah — to express their belief in Reed’s innocence and plead for Abbott to stop his death.

Reed has appeals pending in federal court on new witnesses and a repeated request to test DNA on the suspected murder weapon, but most attention is directed at Abbott’s role. The Texas governor can delay an execution for 30 days on his own. With a recommendation from the parole board, he may grant a longer reprieve or re-sentence a death row inmate to life in prison.

At Saturday’s rally, King and other speakers said at the very least Reed’s execution must be delayed so there can be more time to look at evidence. But they hope to go much further.

“Rodney Reed is doing what I’m doing, claiming his innocence,” said Juan Melendez, an exonerated death row inmate from Florida. “When I saw Rodney Reed’s mother’s eyes, I saw my mother’s eyes. I saw the pain and suffering she is going through.”

Video Courtesy of Austin American-Statesman

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.

Texas Tribune mission statement

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.