CHARLESTON, S.C., Jan. 5 (UPI) — The gunman who shot down a group of worshippers at a South Carolina church 17 months ago has asked a judge to limit the number of people allowed to give anguished impact statements — believing they are unfairly influencing the jury.
Roof was convicted on 33 counts of hate crimes last month in the killings of nine parishioners at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015. He faces a possible death sentence.
Jurors trying to decide on life or death for Roof have heard a number of tearful stories from victims’ families and friends since Wednesday, and more are scheduled in the coming days. Prosecutors said they could call up to 38 witnesses to give impact statements, which is a key part of the penalty phase.
Roof, 22, who has admitted to the crimes but is trying to avoid being put to death, is acting as his own attorney in the sentencing phase. His main argument for the request is that since he’s not planning to offer any counterarguments, prosecutors shouldn’t be able to stack the deck in their favor.
“If I don’t present any mitigation evidence, the victim-impact evidence will take over the whole sentencing trial and guarantee that I get the death penalty,” Roof wrote in one of his requests, unsealed Thursday. “I also think that victim-impact witness should include only relatives — not friends or co-workers — of the victims. And that victim impact testimony should be limited to a ‘quick glimpse’ of the victims’ lives.”
This week, Roof told jurors that he is not sorry for the crimes and that he has no psychological issues. He decided to represent himself in the sentencing phase because he didn’t want his attorneys to portray him as being psychologically deficient.
District Judge Richard Gergel has cautioned prosecutors against letting the impact statements run too long.
One prosecutor said it’s “important that the government and these individuals are allowed to tell the stories of their loved ones.”
Roof said in the request he doesn’t object to hearing every impact statement at the formal sentencing, but believes hearing them all while jurors are still undecided gives prosecutors an unfair advantage — and is unconstitutional.
“Allowing so much of this testimony violates due process and the Eighth Amendment, and should not be allowed,” Roof contended in his request, saying it’s “not fair” for prosecutors to roll out a long line of relatives to talk about the people he killed.
“There should be some limit on the number and types of victim witnesses who can testify to help the government get a death sentence,” he wrote.