CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The Ninth Circuit Solicitor filed a motion Tuesday requesting that the state case against the accused Charleston church shooter goes to trial before the federal case does.
Solicitor Scarlett Wilson filed the motion citing "substantial" problems with the scheduling of the federal trial against Dylann Roof, which is set to begin on Nov. 7 and is requesting consult with the judges trying the federal case against Roof and the federal and state cases against former North Charleston Police officer Michael Slager to set the state trial date for Roof ahead of the federal trial.
Roof is accused in the June 17, 2015 shooting of nine parishioners at Mother Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston. Slager faces charges in the shooting death of motorist Walter Scott on April 4, 2015.
Jury qualification in the state trial against Roof is set to begin on Dec. 6, with the trial beginning on Jan. 17.
The filing states that if the federal trial were to happen before the state trial, it could create issues involving South Carolina's primary custody of Roof.
"The historically recognized 'rule' of primary jurisdiction and custody designed to promote comity between sovereigns provides that where a state sentence has been imposed by a state with primary jurisdiction (as South Carolina unquestionably has here), the federal sentence does not begin until the state relinquishes custody of the defendant upon completion of the sentence," the filing states. "Under that rule, if Roof is sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, then the State would never relinquish custody of him. This remains the reality even though the federal trial may take place first in time, as the temporary transfer of Roof to federal custody for trial does not confer primary jurisdiction on the United States because Roof would merely be 'on loan' from South Carolina."
Wilson's filing states the Federal Bureau of Prisons has refused to take custody of prisoners who are in the primary custody of a state when similar situations have unfolded.
Wilson also states the federal government has not carried out a death penalty since March 2003.
"The State can have no confidence that the United States will ever seek to carry out a death sentence regardless of the state sentence," the filing states. "As a result, even if a federal jury imposes a death sentence, the Solicitor cannot shirk her responsibilities to the victims and the citizenry to seek a death sentence in a sovereign that would actually carry it out."
Wilson also said a federal trial coming before a state trial guarantees Roof will have to be tried twice, but said a life-with-parole or death sentence in a state trial would remove the need for a second, federal trial.
"The State has confirmed that victims' families and survivors were not consulted as to how a six to eight week federal trial spanning three holidays would affect them," Wilson wrote. "The State has likewise confirmed that the victims are requesting that the state trial precede the federal trial and are opposed to a trial interfering with their Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's holidays. Of course, the survivors and victims' families will be present and support both the state and federal trials; however many come from afar and the nightmare of continual holiday travel would only compound their grief."
Wilson cited attorney Andy Savage's representation of the survivors and many other victims' family members, but says Savage would be involved in the state trial against former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, which is scheduled to begin on Oct. 31.
The filing states Savage "will not be available to provide counsel to the victims in federal court for the beginning days or weeks of the federal proceedings.
"He is also unlikely to be able to attend Defendant Roof's federal pre-trial hearings due to conflicts with the Slager matter," the filing states.
"Local law enforcement was not consulted regarding the massive security response the Roof trial will require and has not been afforded an opportunity to weigh in regarding the additional strain they will face resulting from the multi-week State v. Slager trial set to begin the week before Roof across the street from the federal courthouse," the filing states. "Both Charleston Police Department Chief Gregory Mullen and Charleston County Sheriff Al Cannon have confirmed to the State that having both the Slager trial and the federal Roof trial occurring at the same time will put a severe strain on local law enforcement."