Defense attorneys say they will challenge the Justice Department's decision to pursue the death penalty for Dylann Roof, accused of killing nine people at a black church in Charleston, SC. "The facts of this case are indisputably grave," they say, per CNN. "But if, as we contend here, the [Federal Death Penalty Act] is unconstitutional, no one can be lawfully sentenced to death or executed under it, no matter what his crimes." Calling the death penalty "arbitrary, cruel and unusual punishment," the lawyers say Roof has offered to plead guilty and "accept multiple sentences of life imprisonment without possibility of release" if the capital punishment is taken off the table. He faces 33 federal charges, including hate crimes; South Carolina, which has charged Roof with murder, is also seeking the death penalty in the state's case, which will go to trial in January.
"The federal death penalty constitutes a legally prohibited, arbitrary, cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by both the Fifth and Eighth Amendments," Roof’s defense team says, per BuzzFeed. "The results of jurors' good-faith grappling with the law—arbitrary, biased, and erroneous death verdicts—are intolerable as a matter of due process and proportional punishment." CNN notes only three people on federal death row have been executed since 1988. The defense team is also challenging the death qualification in jury selection, which allows only those willing to impose the death penalty to serve. Roof's lawyers say it "has no constitutional or statutory underpinnings, distorts the jury function, introduces arbitrariness into capital sentencing, and increases the influence of racism and sexism on the death determination." (Roof doesn't want a jury at all.)