Attorneys for alleged Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof would be unable to ask jurors for mercy during his sentencing if federal prosecutors get their way.
In a so-called "mercy instruction" motion filed Tuesday, the defense would be barred from suggesting to the jury before deliberations that they aren't ever required to recommend the death penalty.
Prosecutors argue that the defense would already have the opportunity to present evidence during sentencing that could be used to influence — and mitigate — how the jury wants to punish Roof.
Roof, who is white, was charged with killing nine people at a historically black church in June 2015 — a massacre that was part of his alleged plot to start a race war, friends told investigators. He faces the death penalty in both state and federal courts.
A federal trial for hate crimes is scheduled to begin in November, with screening for potential jurors to start later this month. About 3,000 people were sent summonses. Meanwhile, the state’s trial on the murder charges is scheduled for January.
Roof's lawyers filed their own motion last month arguing that the death penalty and federal death penalty law are unconstitutional.
They have offered to have Roof plead guilty and agree to a life sentence if he is exempted from capital punishment.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel has yet to rule on the various motions, but has released some logistics for how the federal trial will be handled, including not publicly releasing names of jurors during proceedings.