If convicted of killing nine people during a Bible study in Charleston, S.C., Dylann Roof would almost surely face the death penalty. Charleston mayor Joseph Riley said, “If you’re going to have a death penalty, then certainly this case would merit it,” reports the Christian Science Monitor. A number of factors add a sliver of doubt. In South Carolina and beyond, mounting questions about the fiscal cost and practical application of the death penalty have cut death penalty convictions.
Perhaps most interesting in the Charleston case is the wishes of the victims’ families themselves. Only two days after the shooting, relatives were telling Roof via a live video link that they forgave him. In the past, such statements have been of limited value in court. As recently as the Boston Marathon bombing, a plea to drop the death penalty from the parents of the youngest victim killed went unheeded. As Roof faces mounting calls to be executed, it is possible that the greatest advocates for this life could be the loved ones of the very people he is charged with killing. The case comes at a time when support for the death penalty is dropping. Though 56 percent of Americans support it, that’s down 22 percent from 1996, says the Pew Research Center.