The Death Penalty On Trial




Sam Fields


Sometime in 2016 the death denalty will be put on trial.

Sometime in 2016, Dylann Roof, the poster boy for the death penalty, will face a judge, prosecutor and a jury of his peers all chomping at the bit to put him to death.

Under ordinary circumstances, his trial and sentence would be mere formalities.  He is, after all, a mass murderer who acted out of equal parts of hate and evil hoping to start a race war in which thousands, if not millions would die.

He does not appear to have a mental illness like James Holmes who shot up the movie theatre in Colorado.  He was not dragged into this by a domineering brother in the way lawyers for Boston bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev argued.

No, this guy is just a looser who could not bear to accept the responsibility for his failed life. And so he blamed it on 25 million African-Americans. Given the opportunity, he would have killed them all.

On the Ted Bundy Scale of Wickedness he’s a “10”.

If the jury is out for 5 minutes it means there was a four-minute deadlock on picking a foreperson. Deciding the verdict and filling out the Verdict Form for “Guilty” on all charges will take the remaining sixty seconds.

If found guilty, South Carolina, like all jurisdictions, has a penalty phase in which the same jury decides life or death after hearing from witnesses pro and con. In Florida it is a majority recommendation to the judge who imposes the sentence. In South Carolina it must be unanimous for execution to impose the death penalty.

To find even one juror opposed executing Roof is a long shot.

You have to wonder if Roof’s mother will appear in person to plead for her son’s life.  Even Sister Helen Prejean, maybe the most zealous opponent of the death penalty, might have second thoughts.

So who will come to plead for sparing Roof, much less someone with credibility?

How about the families of the nine people Roof murdered?

If that seems inconceivable, remember that a day after his arrest family members appeared in court to announce that they forgave him.

Nothing would test the depth of their forgiveness more than pleading for his life.

Nothing would speak louder about the Black community’s widespread, long standing, justified opposition to the death penalty than the victim/families to ask the jury and the Court to spare the life of Dylann Roof.

Instantly, imposing the death penalty on Roof goes from being a “gimme” to a moral conundrum.

Don’t the families have a right to have their wishes honored?  Or, does the state impose its punishment in a judicial vacuum?

At a minimum the trial will turn up the heat on the already hot debate to once again abolish the death penalty.  Dylann Roof will be on trial, but it is the death penalty that will be judged.


7 Responses to “The Death Penalty On Trial”

  1. Count LF Chodkiewicz Chudzikiewicz says:

    I used to be against the death penalty because of the chance of error, but with mass murder and absolute evil now on nearly every continent, we have to bring it back because it does deter some, while others, after going to jail without parole have been escaping and killing again. I know to find a “perfect case” for the death penalty isn’t easy, but people like Dr. Hassan, the kid in Boston, should be the electric chair, even if it fires them. The escape of the two murders in New York State convinces me, LETS START FIRING SCUM! ONCE DEAD, THEY CANT KILL AGAIN!

  2. Commissioner Angelo Castillo says:


    Life without parole is a sentence that permanantly dehuminizes, it removes all hope from a person and is therefore, by definition. inhumane, unnatural and cruel. There’s nothing natural or “usual” about it a person being caged like an animal forever. That strikes me as the epitome of cruel and unusual punishment.

    Once we decide that someone has done something so terrible that they are beyond redemption, that we never want them to re-enter society again, then what’s the point of incarcerating them? It’s just cruel to do that.

    Incarceration should serve to punish and rehabilitate for periods of time commensurate with the severity of the crime. If we incarcerate and rehabilitate, then it should be followed by release with the clear expectation that this individual will pose little if any risk to society again.

    Execution for well proved horrible crimes is neither cruel or unusual punishment. Why?

    We all die. If not today then tomorrow, but in any event death is a natural part of life that we must all face. When delivered painlessly, how can it be argued that a deserved death by capital punishment is cruel or unusual?

    Yet life imprisonment without the hope of parole is not cruel and unusual? False logic goes into that thinking. Bizarre understanding of what cruel and unusual means is evidenced there.

    We need to stop the illogical, costly and cruel warehousing of people for years and years without offering any rehabilitative services. Prisoners should be released back into society in better, not worse shape than they entered.

    We need to execute those we find are beyond redemption. It truly is the only compassionate thing to do with someone like that.

    I would rather spend time resource and energy on those who have hope of turning around. I would prefer to see more intelligent exporation of alternatives to incarcertation like restorative justice models, work release, discharge planning, etc. All that makes much more sense than warehousing people and releasing them in more dangerous shape than we found them.

    It’s high time that we rethought our criminal justice system top to bottom, especially how we sentence those who break our laws in just, humane and intelligent ways.

    That’s how I’ve always seen this issue.


  3. SAM FIELDS says:

    Why I oppose the Death Penalty

    The Innocence Project only deals with people on Death Row where DNA disproves the conviction. Still, with that limited standard, they have snatched 155 people from the executioner.

    Not many cases have DNA. One can only imagine the number of innocent people who have gone to the hangman because there was no DNA or Innocence Project lawyer to free them.

    Apparently you think that’s just the cost of doing business.

    If life is worse than death why do so few defendants fight to get executed?

    The recidivism rate for paroled murderers is very low. A 2011 study of 1190 paroled in NY showed a 3% rate for return to prison within 3 years of release for any reason.

    I could go on but won’t.

  4. Chaz Stevens says:

    American exceptionalism at its best — we lead the world in folks behind bars and near the tops in the death penalty.

    Damn you ISIS.

  5. John Henry says:



  6. Commissioner Angelo Castillo says:


    I’m not in favor of a death penalty sentence unless the evidence is clear and convincing beyond any reasonable doubt. If you look back at each and every one of those Innocence Project cases, a person was sentenced to die on less that overwhelming evidence. And that is wrong.

    Innocence project is doing great work. But we have DNA now, which offers us even greater assurances that people are judged correctly.

    I don’t disagree with you at all that there should be clearer grounds for such a penalty and by no means minimizing the subject which is indeed of the highest importance. It has to be done better and steps are slow to deal with that reality.

    But none of that has anthing to do with the question of whether capital punishment is cruel and unsual by any rational Constitutional interpretation. It is not cruel or unusual.

    Life without parole is both.


  7. Commissioner Angelo Castillo says:

    And recidivism rates for the US, an average of all states, runs at about 66%.