Tag Archives: mass shootings

The Race To Execute A Racist

Printed January 11, 2017 in the Danbury Newstimes

Newstimes

You only die once. So why are both federal and state prosecutors separately trying to kill the 22-year-old man who, in July 2015, went on a racist rampage killing nine people in a church in Charleston? Jurors in a federal court in the southern city on Tuesday made one of the most important and difficult decisions of their lives. The decision came at the end of the penalty phase in the man’s trial (DSR) where the jury’s choice was either execution or a “life without parole” sentence.

CHARLESTON, SC - JUNE 19: Kearston Farr comforts her daughter, Taliyah Farr,5, as they stand in front of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church after a mass shooting at the church that killed nine people of June 19, 2015. A 21-year-old white gunman is suspected of killing nine people during a prayer meeting in the church, which is one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

CHARLESTON, SC – JUNE 19: Kearston Farr comforts her daughter, Taliyah Farr,5,in front of the church that where nine people were murdered. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

 

Mass murder rampages are always horrific. This one differs from other rampages where victims are usually chosen more randomly. The victims in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School rampage, for example, only had in common that they were affiliated in some way with the school, where first grade children, teachers and school administrators were all killed. In that tragedy, the shooter’s motives were never realized, and there is no requirement that it is.

The South Carolina rampager had a motive. He wanted to punish African Americans for perceived injustices he imagined they perpetrated upon whites. A grotesque feature of his murderous scheme is that he sat and prayed in the African Methodist Episcopal Church with his victims just before he killed them.

The sentencing hearing occurring now is a federal capital murder trial. Federal murder cases used to be rare. According the Death Penalty Information Center, in the nearly 30 years since 1988 only three federal defendants have been executed. Today there are 62 inmates now on federal death row, including the man convicted in the 2013 Boston marathon massacre. Federal capital murder trials were unusual because homicide in the U.S. legal system is typically a state or local crime; investigated by state or local police and prosecuted by state or local prosecutors.

Not all states allow for the death penalty, but South Carolina is one of the 31 states that does. In fact, South Carolina state officials have also indicted the man on nine murder counts and will begin a second capital murder trial just as soon as the federal trial is over.

Putting an offender on trial twice for the same offense may look like a violation of the “double jeopardy” clause of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, but it’s not. That’s because the U.S. and South Carolina are separate legal entities and the “dual sovereignty” doctrine allows prosecutions for the same offense by both governments. The fact that both can put DSR on trial doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Victims will go through the traumatic experience of witnessing the trial, some testifying a second time. Trials, particularly capital trials, with a very lengthy appellate process, are a considerable expense for taxpayers to endure even once.

Some penalties can co-exist after separate federal and state trials. A prison sentence for years, fines or restitution orders can all co-exist. The most likely sentences in these two cases, though, are either life without parole, or death and both, obviously, can only be carried out once.

Why is the U.S. Justice Department pursuing DSR? In charging him, Attorney General Loretta Lynch pointed to the racial hostility nature of the massacre and the existence of federal hate and racial bias crimes as a rationale for moving forward. The explanation for duplicate capital murder trials is unsatisfactory. It’s true that charging bias and hate crimes serve a cathartic purpose for a badly traumatized African American community, and go to the heart of the offenses. How important is it for the crimes charged to expose the motivations of the mass murderer?

When the evidence is put on, the upcoming South Carolina state murder trial will expose the same motivations the federal trial did. Isn’t it enough for DSR to be only once charged with nine counts of murder, followed by one just sentence? Perhaps the Justice Department and the President are hedging their bets, not willing to take any chances of a failed state prosecution and the effect it would have on the nation.

Most rampagers are suicidal and most rampages end with the rampager taking their own life or being gunned down by police. This rampager is no different. He fully expected to be confronted by police either inside or outside the Church. His federal sentencing hearing is a spectacle. Why broadcast his bigotry a second time? If it’s death he wants, it’s likely that’s what he’ll get.

Regardless of the outcome of both trials, one thing is certain. He will only die once and no number of trials will restore the lives of his innocent victims.

Editor’s note: DSR is Dylann S. Roof. Diamond intentionally minimized the exposure given to him, following a protocol advocated by NO Notoriety, a group of murder survivors who believe infamy is one of the goals of rampage murderers.

Jim Diamond practiced criminal law in Danbury for 25 years. Today he teaches at the University Of Arizona College Of Law.

 

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Parents of Mass Shooters Say They’re Sorry: It’s The Least They Can Do

He didn’t say much, but he wasted no time. The day after Sediqque M’s son committed a brutal massacre at an Orlando nightclub, leaving an astounding 49 people dead, the father of the murderer immediately surfaced and apologized:

I am really sorry and have expressed this to the people of the United States, especially in this holy month of Ramadan. What he has done has shocked me … I ask God for help and guidance.

 He added:

Those people who lost their loved ones, they are my family. I am as sad and as mad as you guys are. I’m very, very mad.

 I don’t know anything about the man’s politics, what kind of father he was, if he made other inflammatory statements, took questionable actions. The man deserves credit, though, for immediately coming forward. It’s not how the parents of rampage shooters used to act.

What will the reaction be from surviving victims, or those struggling to survive devastating injuries? What about the reaction from the scores of grieving family members of those young men and women whose lives his son tragically cut short?

Some will simply ignore him as inconsequential and meaningless as they cope with despair. Others may react with anger. Still others might find some quiet measure of appreciation, if not now, eventually. The victims, the survivors, in fact the world, cries out with one simple question: Why? What did my son or daughter, my sister or brother, do to deserve this? Why did your son take them away from me? What were their last words? What made your son act in this barbaric fashion?

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One thing Sediqque’s expression of sorrow, shock and anger was not: it was not silence. Silence was the default position taken by the parents of rampaging murderers in the past. The disbelief expressed by Sediqque is common. It is common that parents of rampagers cannot fathom their children could be capable of the unimaginable carnage they unleash.  Parents are blindsided by the event and are simultaneously engulfed with an international media tidal wave. Police in arrive in SWAT gear and forcibly remove them from their homes, interrogate them as suspects: what did they know about their children’s plans and how did they obtain their weapons? The media camp out on their lawns, visit their employers, family members and friends. The images of their children and themselves are plastered on the television, newspapers and web and in infamy.

If their child is dead, as if so often the case, the parents, too, are in mourning. They have to figure out what to do with the dead body. Funerals and burials are difficult, or impossible, in fear of vandalism. The parents are blamed, vilified, and hated. They receive death threats.

Expecting lawsuits and even possible arrest, parents huddle with lawyers. Lawyers advise silence. Statements made could be used against parents in big multimillion dollar lawsuits, which in the United States will, no doubt follow. Statements might be used by criminal prosecutors looking to charge somebody, anybody, with “aiding and abetting,” accomplice criminal liability, or failure to prevent a crime, something called “misprision.”  For lawyers, silence helps shield clients.

Parental apologies seem to have started in the age of Columbine. Prior to Columbine, parents often maintained silence, as did the parents of the 14-year-old boy who, in 1997 killed 3 classmates in a school prayer circle at Heath High School in West Paducah, Kentucky.  And in the late 1999 when the parents of mass shooters made a statement, it came after a few days and great deliberation with attorneys. The statements were typically written and released by parents’ attorneys.  An example is the brief and statement released by the lawyer for the parents of one of the Columbine High School murderers:

“Wayne and Kathy…have been devastated by what their son…did.” They continue to grieve for all of the victims and their families. “Hopefully, there will come a time when they feel they are ready to speak publicly about their son and the horrible acts that he committed. But now is just not that time.”

Sediqque’s brief but immediate apology is more common now. It’s how most parents now react. In 2013, for example, a mother held an impromptu press conference in her Brooklyn, N.Y. apartment the day after her son murdered twelve innocent people at the Navy Yard in Washington D.C. She stood in her living room and with clergy standing beside her, read a brief apology, concluding that she was now was glad in her son’s death he could “no longer do harm to anyone.”  Her words were preferable to the deafening silence of bygone eras. There are countless examples of the newer trend.

A second development, much rarer but even more remarkable, is that parents of shooters conducting private meetings with parents of victims. One such meeting occurred in 2013 following the Sandy Hook elementary school tragedy where the father of the shooter met privately with grieving parents of one of his six-year-old victims. Another such meeting between parents occurred between two fathers in 2014 near Los Angeles, California. The meetings offer the slightest possibility of making sense of the senseless.

Experts like psychiatrist Aaron Lazare say apologies are “a validation of another person’s feelings, intuition, and perception,” and, when sincere, are an important component of the healing process. The apology, he wrote in 2004, “is a method of social healing that has grown in importance as our way of living together on this planet undergoes radical change.” Radical change, indeed.

The meetings, the prompt expressions of apology and remorse like the one uttered by Sediqque don’t bring back the dead.  But they just might help the living live another day.