“All the men and women whom I have faced at that final moment, convince me that in what I have done, I have not prevented a single murder. ”
— Albert Pierrepoint: Executioner: Pierrepoint, 1974
You’ll be dead when your war is won
But did you have to gun down everyone?
I can see it’s kill or be killed
A nation of destiny has got to be fulfilled
Whatever you want, you’re gonna get it!
— The Clash: “Tommy Gun” written by Joe Strummer and Mick Jones (1978)
On December 15, 2016, Dylann Storm Roof was convicted for the racially motivated slaughter at the Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. In the attack, which took place during a prayer service on the evening of June 17, 2015, Roof shot and killed nine people. Among the dead were Cynthia Marie Graham-Hurd, 54, a Bible study member and manager for the Charleston County Public Library system; Susie Jackson, 87, a chorister at the church; Tywanza Sanders, 26, her grandnephew and colleague in Bible Study; Ethel Lee Lance, 70, the church’s sexton; Reverend Depayne Middleton-Doctor, 49, a school administrator and admissions coordinator at Southern Wesleyan University; Reverend Daniel Simmons, 74; Reverend Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45, a speech therapist and track coach at Goose Creek High School; Myra Thompson, 59, a Bible study teacher and Reverend Honorable Clementa C. Pinckney, 41, a senior pastor of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and a Democratic member of the South Carolina Senate, representing the 45th District.
In all, Dylann Roof was found guilty of 33 counts of federal hate crimes, including murder, attempted murder, damage to religious property, obstruction of religious belief and weapons charges.
The penalty phase of U.S. v Roof is set to commence on January 3, 2017, and federal prosecutors are seeking a death sentence.
Despite the heinous nature of Roof’s crimes, executing him would be impractical on myriad levels. At the very least, it would fly in the face of the gesture of forgiveness put forth by the victims’ relatives in the wake of the tragedy. More applicably, to use the death penalty on Dylann Roof presents a logistical nightmare if he opts for lethal injection, owing to the shortage of drugs used thusly, which in turn has resulted from various European pharmaceutical companies forbidding the use of their product in U.S. executions after abolitionists alerted them of that specific matter.
An equally important factor is the possibility of mechanical failure during the execution, which will precipitate nightmarish consequences. Specifically, if there is a snag whilst administrating the fatal injection cocktail, Roof would suffer a prolonged agony riddled with convulsions. Otherwise, if he is put to the electric chair and the equipment malfunctions or he doesn’t prove to be an efficient conductor of current, he could cook like a hot dog for an unnecessarily inordinate amount of time before actually dying. Either scenario is an Eighth Amendment cause. Whereas the school of thought exists that the death penalty is cruel and unusual punishment, botched executions are an unequivocal example thereof, no questions asked, on account of the needlessly drawn-out suffering.
Suffice it to say, though Dylann Roof is doubtlessly a hateful, evil, dangerous, mass-murdering shitehawk, but by no means does he deserve to die, and he definitely does not deserve to suffer a longer and more painful fate than did his victims.
Economics come heavily into play as well. Whereas non-capital murder cases cost the taxpayers approximately $740,000 from start to finish, cases in which the prosecution calls for execution come to $1.26 million per each. A major factor therein is the higher price tag defense attorneys charge for taking on cases in which execution is sought, no doubt because all the lawyers, judges, and other personnel will put more hours into taking into account the matters at hand.
With that particular point in mind, even if Dylann Roof is handed a death sentence, the instant gratification thereof is not going to happen. In fact, the period between the sentencing and the meting out thereof could be a long slog. Not only will court personnel take as much time as they need pondering the issue, it is not out of the question that Roof, sociopath that he is might seek out and exploit whatever loophole he can in the interim, not unlike the serial rapist and murderer Ted Bundy, who after being arrested in 1978, lingered on death row for eleven more years before his appeals were exhausted and he was subsequently put to death. As the cost to house a death row offender is $90,000 more per year than a prisoner in general population, another opportunity for fiscal waste arises.
It’s especially worth considering the idea that whereas capital punishment exists to satisfy society’s primal need for revenge, but, in the observation of fabled British hangman Albert Pierrepoint, “takes the easy way and hands over the responsibility for revenge to other people,” many death row convicts see their fate less as a penalty and more as a release. For example, before Peter Kürten, the notorious Düsseldorf Ripper was put to the guillotine in 1931, he asked his executioner:
“Tell me—after my head is chopped off, will I still be able to hear, at least for a moment, the sound of my own blood gushing from the stump of my neck? That would be the pleasure to end all pleasures.”
A better example comes in the form of Welsh murderess Ruth Ellis, the last woman hanged in the United Kingdom, who succumbed to battered woman syndrome and shot and killed her abusive alcoholic lover, David Blakely. Though much outcry was raised, given Ellis’ predicament, including a scathing essay by American expat mystery writer Raymond Chandler denouncing “the medieval savagery of the law,” she admitted from the witness box at the Old Bailey that she intentionally shot to kill, expressed no interest in a petition for a reprieve, and is even remembered to have greeted Albert Pierrepoint with a smile as he came to the death cell at Holloway Prison to collect her and lead her to the noose.
In the particular case of Dylann Roof, an execution would perhaps be less a punishment than a reward. The more paranoid, prejudiced and violent citizens have become emboldened by the election of Donald John Trump to the office of President of the United States. Under these circumstances, executing Dylann Roof might possibly simultaneously anger America’s white supremacists while giving them a new patron saint. Those sociopathic assholes deserve neither such satisfaction, and granting same shouldn’t be part and parcel of the necessary prosecution of Dylann Roof.