Tuesday, November 29, 2016

This Won't End Well

It is too often true in the trenches of criminal defense that if our clients were good at making decisions they wouldn't be our clients.

Case in point:  Dylan Roof.  

Charged with killing 9 African Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.  His motive, they say, was to start a race war.  It was, they say, an act of terrorism.  Regardless of what additional names you give to the murder, regardless of the motive, it was an horrific crime.

Bad decision to do that? Certainly.  Bad decision to hate that much (and that way)?  Certainly.  Bad decision to have that picture taken?  Certainly.

Anyhow, he's facing (you know this and I've written about it several times) capital trials in both federal and state court.

They began selecting the jury this morning in the federal trial.  From a pool of 512 (down from 747 who filled out questionnaires, which is down from the 3,000 who were originally summoned), they'll get down to a dozen jurors and 6 alternates.  It's a slow process under the best of circumstances.  So slow that testimony likely won't begin until January (so the reporters are saying), perhaps just a few days before the trial in state court is set to start.  (The state trial will be delayed.)

Of course, one thing might speed it up a bit.

Just before they started with the jurors this morning, the judge granted Roof's request to represent himself.  This is the same judge who just held a two-day, closed-door hearing on whether Roof was competent to stand trial - a lesser degree of competence, the Supreme Court says.  But, and with some reluctance (judges hate pro se defendants; their lack of legal training and acculturation makes them unpredictable and tends to complicate the trial), the judge warned Roof he was probably making a serious mistake and then gave him the green light.

Which he wanted because, you know, he knows better how to convince the . . . .  Aw, the hell with the snark.  You know the old saying.
Anyone who has himself for a lawyer has a fool for a client.
Jennifer Berry Hawes in the Post and Courier, wondered why Roof would want to represent himself.
Defendants typically seek to represent themselves in capital cases for three reasons, said Charleston attorney Chris Adams, who specializes in federal court defenses, including death penalty cases, and is secretary of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
"They don’t have faith in their legal team, they want to die, or they want to conceal their mental illness," Adams said. "In this case, Mr. Roof had a great defense team, so I don’t think there would be any sane reason to not trust them."
No "sane reason" not to trust them.  Well, yeah.  But then ordinary sanity and the competence to stand trial or represent oneself aren't the same thing (as Chris well knows).  And trust?  Hell, the same government that wants to murder Roof is paying his lawyers to try and save his life.  It's not hard to see why he might have some trust issues.*

But as Chris rejects the trust thing, he offers another guess.
Instead, Adams figured that Roof "wants suicide by jury" to conceal mental health issues. "Since it is doubtful Mr. Roof will present his own case for life, the hearing becomes a charade as jurors are denied the information that is critical to their decision," added Adams, who isn't involved in the case.
But that doesn't seem quite right, either.  The record, such as it is, does not suggest that Roof wants to be murdered by prison personnel.  He has, after all, consistently offered to plead guilty if the governments would just take execution off the table and sentence him to death by incarceration.

But if not the suicide by jury part, the rest (perhaps with variation) seems plausible: He wants to be sure that nobody will hear mitigation evidence he'd rather conceal.  Maybe it's about his mental health.  Maybe it's about his mother.  Maybe it's about how he's been abused.  

Or maybe it's that he wants to be able to tell the jury that he did it and he's glad and fuck those niggers.  Heil!  Besides, it's federal court and Donald Trump can grant him a pardon, so what the hell.

Back when he was blogging at Hercules and the Umpire, Judge Kopf posted this picture of a sullen Dylan Roof with the lead in, "let me show you what evil looks like."

I'm more struck by this picture of a seriously fucked-up and pathetic kid.  Just the sort who'd want to keep his truths to himself.

But monster or not, evil or just pitiable in his self-absorbed mania, if he keeps representing himself, you can be pretty sure what the verdict will be.

The Lynch can be proud that she got a death sentence in an even-more-than-usual unfair fight.

*No, I'm not saying they're legitimate.  But they're things that every lawyer who takes court-appointments and every public defender has to deal with from time to time.

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