Attorneys for the man charged with the murder of nine parishioners at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, last year are asking prosecutors to drop their pursuit of the death penalty.
The 22-year-old defendant – who allegedly walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, 2015 and sat in on Bible study for close to an hour before opening fire – is willing to submit to a jury and face possible multiple life sentences if the death note is withdrawn, according to court documents obtained by Guns.com.
In its motion filed Monday, the defense wrote that prosecutors sought the death penalty “solely as a result of the government’s decision to seek the defendant’s execution rather than accepting his proffered pleas of guilty and willingness to accept multiple sentences of life imprisonment without possibility of release,” going further to call the punishment unconstitutional.
Capital punishment, in this case, is cruel and unusual punishment, the defendant’s attorneys argued.
Federal hate crime charges are among the 33 the defendant faces because he allegedly targeted churchgoers on the basis of their race. Witnesses reportedly heard the shooter use racially-charged language.
“I have to do it,” he reportedly said before carrying out the deadly shooting. “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”
The shooting once again brought the issue of race to the forefront of political conversation, with the Confederate flag at the center of a debate questioning its symbolism.
Shortly after the shooting, investigators found photographs of the shooter posing with the flag and another of him wearing a jacket with an apartheid-era South Africa flag patch.
The shooting also again raised the issue of guns and mental health. Known as the “Charleston Loophole,” the shooter was able to pass a background check and acquire a gun despite being prohibited because of a previous felony drug charge he received in March 2015 for illegal possession of prescription drugs.
It was a mistake which allowed the April 2015 transaction to go through and it shouldn’t have happened, FBI Director James Comey said during a press conference on July 10, 2015.