Jurors filed into a Charleston, S.C., courtroom yesterday to hear opening statements in the trial of Dylann Roof, the 22-year-old charged with federal hate crimes after the massacre last year at a historic church just a mile from the courthouse. Prosecutors outlined the shooting in brutal detail. Authorities say Roof confessed to the killings of nine black parishioners. He offered to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison. Prosecutors have not accepted that offer. They are seeking a rare federal death sentence, a decision that has caused some unease among victims’ family members, reports the Washington Post.
Federal death sentences are extremely rare, and executions are even less common. There are 62 inmates on federal death row. Since the federal death penalty statute was reinstated in 1988 and expanded in 1994, the government has put three inmates to death, all by lethal injection. The last federal execution was in 2003: Louis Jones Jr., a Gulf War veteran, had been convicted of the kidnapping, rape and murder of an Army recruit. In 2001, the government executed Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing and Juan Raul Garza for murdering three men. The government has taken a little more than 200 federal death penalty cases to trial since 1988, according to the Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project. In the federal cases that saw juries decide on a sentence, they opted for life imprisonment about twice as often as death sentences.