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Sept. 3 2015 8:10 PM

Prosecutors Seek Death Penalty for Dylann Roof as Punishment for Charleston Church Shooting

State prosecutors will seek the death penalty when Dylann Roof goes to trial for the racially-motivated shooting of nine people in a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina in June, according to a court filing Thursday.  Roof has been charged with nine counts of murder and three of attempted murder.

“Mr. Roof has been indicted twice for the killings, in state court and in federal court, and each of those cases carries a possible death sentence,” the New York Times notes. “The documents said state prosecutors would pursue the death penalty because more than two people were killed, and that others’ lives were put at risk.” The Justice Department has not yet decided on whether it will seek the death penalty for the alleged hate crimes.


Prosecutor Scarlett Wilson said she conferred with the victims’ families before making the determination to seek the death penalty. Some relatives of the parishioners and ministers killed by Roof had expressed forgiveness in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, despite the 21-year-old’s racist, white-supremacist motivations. Wilson said some of the family members opposed the death penalty for religious reasons.

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Sept. 3 2015 6:27 PM

North Carolina Brothers Get $25,000 for Each of the 30 Years They Were Wrongfully Imprisoned

Henry McCollum, left, and Leon Brown in North Carolina Department of Public Safety photos.


North Carolina brothers Henry McCollum, 51, and Leon Brown, 47, were released from prison last September by a judge and pardoned this June by governor Pat McCrory after being wrongfully convicted of rape and murder and serving 30 years in prison. (DNA evidence implicated another man in the crime after the North Carolina Innocence Inquiry Commission began looking into the case in 2010.) On Thursday the state awarded the pair reparations for their decades-long false imprisonment, which McCollum spent on death row. (Brown also initially received a death sentence but was sentenced to life in prison in 1988 after the initial convictions were thrown out.) From the Guardian:

The governor pardoned the brothers in June, a step that made each eligible to receive $50,000 from the state for every year spent in prison, with a limit of $750,000. They can also receive educational benefits from the state.
Their attorney said the money will be put in a trust and invested so that the brothers can live off the earnings and won’t have to work.

Call me a bleeding heart, but isn't it possible that there shouldn't be a limit on the amount of restitution you can get if you're wrongly put on death row for 30 motherloving years?

Brown was not able to attend Thursday's hearing because he is "is in the hospital, suffering from health problems including post-traumatic stress disorder," his lawyer said.

Sept. 3 2015 5:56 PM

Campaign Quote of the Day: Rick Perry Might Not Know How Clocks Work

Rick Perry responding to a question from Fox News on Thursday about Donald Trump's claim that the former Texas governor is dropping out of the GOP race:

"You know a broken clock is right once a day. The bottom line is I'm still here, I'm still working."

Sept. 3 2015 5:33 PM

Do GOP Hopefuls Care More About the Law or “Religious Liberty”? A Kim Davis Roundup.

The legal case of Rowan County clerk Kim Davis has now turned into a political one as well.

A federal judge on Thursday ordered the Kentucky clerk jailed for contempt for her refusal to issue marriage licenses as a way to avoid having to give one to a same-sex couple, something she says would be a violation of her Christian beliefs. “Her good faith belief is simply not a viable defense,” said U.S. District Judge David Bunning. The judge later sought a compromise: Davis would not be jailed as long as she allowed her deputies to follow the law and issue marriage licenses to both homo- and heterosexual couples in her stead. Davis, though, refused.

The ongoing legal fight has become the latest test case for a Republican presidential field that has split on whether to continue the battle it lost in the Supreme Court this summer, or to begrudgingly accept marriage equality and move on. The GOP contenders began slowly wading into the Kentucky debate earlier this week, and several struck more strident tones after Bunning’s decision Thursday.

Below is a round-up of the GOP responses to Davis’ stance, from both before and after her Thursday court adventure. There’s a rather massive chasm between some candidates—Mike Huckabee’s suggesting that Davis couldn’t even issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple if she wanted to, while Lindsey Graham’s on record saying that she should either do her job or resign—though most of the field has sided with Davis.

A few of the statements are a little difficult to parse (ahem, Chris Christie), but I’ve done my best to order them from her biggest defenders to her biggest critics.

Sept. 3 2015 3:17 PM

Here Are the Sections of the Deflategate Ruling That Make Roger Goodell Look Like a Buffoon

Judge Richard Berman's ruling on Thursday to overturn Tom Brady’s four-game suspension for his alleged role in the New England Patriots’ deflated football scandal was a blow to the NFL’s ad hoc system of player justice. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell comes off terribly in the decision for the arbitrariness with which he meted out punishment in this case. While arbitrary decision-making is in line with his past actions, seeing a judge pick apart the absurdity of Goodell's decision in such an already silly case—a dispute over how much air was in a football—makes Goodell look more like a buffoon than ever before.

Here are Berman’s harshest words for Goodell, along with the sections that best illustrate the foolishness and randomness of the league’s conduct policy and disciplinary procedures.


First, on Page 15, Berman describes how Brady never received advance notice of what his possible punishment might be, a right the judge later describes as being "at the heart of the [NFL's collective bargaining agreement] and, for that matter, of our criminal and civil justice systems." The NFL initially cited Brady's alleged misconduct as a violation of the league's Competitive Integrity Policy. That policy— which states "failure to cooperate in an investigation shall be considered detrimental to the League and will subject the offending club and responsible individual(s) to appropriate discipline"—was never given to players. Berman would later cite this lack of warning as a violation of fundamental fairness on Goodell's part.  


The next page shows the NFLPA’s lawyer describing how the punishment for first-time equipment violations in the player's manual that Brady did actually have was a $5,512 fine, not the four-game suspension that Brady got. The mention demonstrates the discrepancy between a reasonable possible punishment and what Goodell ultimately decided.


Page 18 shows how Goodell’s reasoning for ignoring the punishment in the player policy manual and going with a harsher punishment was based on an incoherent comparison to steroid abuse, rather than any sort of precedent.


On Page 21 the judge puts it all together in describing how there was no way for Brady to know what his punishment might be until Goodell came up with his bizarre steroid reasoning.


Then on Pages 22 and 23, Berman explicitly states how nonsensical the steroid comparison is on Goodell’s part.


Just for good measure, the judge continues to demonstrate the absurdity of Goodell’s logic:


Citing legal precedent on Page 25 to describe this specific case, Berman offers the perfect description of the arbitrariness of Goodell’s player conduct judgments writ large.


On Page 35, the judge hammers the so-called independence of Goodell’s disciplinary investigation of Brady, which was conducted in part by NFL executive vice president and general counsel Jeff Pash, the No. 2 executive at the NFL. He also criticizes the NFL for its refusal to let Brady’s lawyers question Pash about his involvement during his initial appeal, which was conducted by Goodell himself, because of a claim of attorney-client privilege.


On the same page, Berman emphasizes that Goodell’s claim that this was an independent proceeding is a farce. Note the use of scare quotes and the apparent sarcasm dripping around the word heralded.


On Page 37 the judge hits Goodell for not providing investigative files for Brady’s appeal team.


And finally, on Page 38, Berman again slams Goodell for failing to uphold his own duty to ensure that the appeal proceeding was conducted fairly. To make matters worse, he cites the previous commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s stinging rebuke of Goodell’s similarly arbitrary actions in the bountygate case, when punishments for New Orleans Saints players suspended for alleged involvement in the team’s cash-for-hits program were overturned on appeal.


We all knew that Roger Goodell’s personal conduct proceedings are generally a joke, but it’s pretty satisfying to see it in the cold, hard font of a binding legal document

Sept. 3 2015 2:57 PM

Trump Pledges Allegiance to the Republican Party

Donald Trump did something Thursday that he’s refused to do since he jumped into the Republican race: He vowed to back the party’s eventual nominee in the general election even if it’s not him. “I will be totally pledging my allegiance to the Republican Party and the conservative principals for which it stands,” Trump said at a press conference at his Manhattan headquarters after meeting with Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee.

“The best way for the Republicans to win is if I win the nomination and go directly against whoever [the Democrats] put up,” Trump said. “And for that reason I have signed the pledge.”


The announcement comes one day after the RNC asked the entire GOP field to sign a document that reads:

I, ______, affirm that if I do not win the 2016 Republican nomination for president of the United States, I will endorse the 2016 Republican presidential nominee regardless of who it is. I further pledge that I will not seek to run as an independent or write-in candidate nor will I seek or accept the nomination for president of any other party.

The pledge was specifically aimed at Trump, who before Thursday had refused to rule out a third-party run since he said threatening one gave him so much “leverage” in the race.

At Thursday’s press conference, the current GOP front-runner explained that he was willing to finally give that up since the RNC had proved to him that it would treat him fairly. “I just wanted fairness from the Republican Party,” he said. Asked whether he got anything in exchange for signing the pledge, the billionaire said he got “absolutely nothing other than the assurance that I’d be treated fairly.”

Shortly after, though, Trump made it clear that his calls for “fairness” shouldn’t be mistaken for a suggestion that the race will be fight-free. During the roughly 30-minute press conference, he managed to throw punches at half a dozen of his GOP rivals, including Rand Paul, Rick Perry, Lindsey Graham, and his favorite target, Jeb Bush.

Given the outsider image Trump has taken great pains to craft, the decision to sign the RNC-authored pledge is somewhat surprising. Still, it does come with a few traditional political benefits: It removes the possibility that some state GOP officials would try to keep him off their primary ballots, as several had suggested. It also will stop Trump from facing the same type of grilling at the upcoming CNN debate about a possible third-party run that he received from Fox News at the last one.

Perhaps more important to Trump, though, is that the pledge works both ways: In the event he somehow proves everyone wrong and ends up winning the GOP nomination, the other 16 candidates would have to back him. The prospect of Jeb stumping for The Donald in 2016, then, may be the only thing worth more to the billionaire dealmaker than the leverage his third-party threat gave him.

Sept. 3 2015 2:05 PM

Louisiana Police Officer Is Upset That He Was Fired for Attending KKK Rally

 Det. Raymond Mott in Ku Klux Klan uniform.
Raymond Mott in Ku Klux Klan clothing.

Photo courtesy of the Jennings Daily News

A Lake Arthur, Louisiana, police officer named Raymond Mott is upset that he was fired for attending a Ku Klux Klan rally and plans to sue over his dismissal, area ABC affiliate KATC reports. Mott was photographed at a rally in North Carolina in 2014 wearing Klan insignia and holding his left hand up in a Klan salute:

"The picture speaks for itself," said Mott. "I'm standing at a rally against illegal immigration. There's not much to be said about the picture. I've never denied it was me."

From the Southern Poverty Law Center's writeup on a piece in the local Jennings Daily News that's paywalled:

“I have never even had a negative write-up in my file since my start in law enforcement as a reserve in 2006,” Mott told the Jennings newspaper.  “I am not going to quit my job because I made a decision to support a cause I thought was right at the time - illegal immigration not racism,” he added.

A local district attorney says prosecutions involving Mott will be reviewed for potential bias.

Sept. 3 2015 1:34 PM

Father of Drowned Syrian Boy Describes Son’s Death

The father of the 3-year-old Syrian drowning victim whose photograph made headlines around the world Wednesday has identified the bodies of the boy, the boy's sister, and his mother at a Turkish morgue, Reuters reports. The man's name is Abdullah Kurdi; his 3-year-old son Aylan*, his 5-year-old son Galip, and his 35-year-old wife Rehan died along with nine others while trying to row to Greece from Turkey. From the AP:

Abdullah Kurdi said Thursday that the boat's captain panicked due to high waves and jumped into the sea, leaving him in control of the small craft with his family and other migrants aboard.
"I took over and started steering. The waves were so high and the boat flipped. I took my wife and my kids in my arms and I realized they were all dead," he said. The distraught father added: "All I want is to be with my children at the moment."

As Slate's Joshua Keating wrote Wednesday, "the death toll resulting from thousands of refugees making the dangerous journey from the Middle East and North Africa into Europe has been swelling for months, and so far, help is not on the way." The Kurdi family's application for legal asylum in Canada was rejected before their attempt to reach Greece. Abdullah Kurdi says he plans to take his family's bodies home to Syria to be buried in the war-torn city of Kobani.

Said Kurdi to reporters at the morgue: "The things that happened to us here, in the country where we took refuge to escape war in our homeland, we want the whole world to see this. We want the world’s attention on us, so that they can prevent the same from happening to others. Let this be the last."

*Correction, Sept. 3, 2015: This post originally misspelled Aylan Kurdi's name.

Sept. 3 2015 10:41 AM

Tom Brady Beats NFL in Court as Judge Overturns Four-Game Deflategate Suspension

The AP reports that a federal judge has sided with star New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in his case against the NFL, overturning the 4-game suspension that league commissioner Roger Goodell imposed on him for his alleged role in the alleged deflation of game balls used during last season's AFC championship game. The league has the option of appealing the ruling. (Update, 12:55 p.m.: Goodell says the league will indeed appeal but it will reportedly not seek a stay of Thursday's ruling, which means Brady will eligible to play for the Patriots when this season begins.)

Judge Richard Berman's ruling, as Deadspin notes, addresses the mechanics of the NFL's disciplinary process rather than Brady's culpability in ball deflation. The NFL suspended Brady in May, concluding based on an investigation by lawyer Ted Wells (an investigation which was supervised by NFL VP Jeff Pash) that the quarterback was likely "generally aware" that Patriots employees deflated balls used in the Jan. 18 championship game below the lower pressure boundary prescribed in league rules. A letter to Brady explained that his suspension was also punishment for his alleged failure to cooperate fully with the investigation. Brady appealed the suspension, then sued the NFL after Goodell confirmed the penalty in July. Berman ruled that the league did not provide Brady with adequate due process before and after suspending him. The suspension is referred to in Berman's ruling as "the Award." From the ruling:

The Award is premised upon several significant legal deficiencies, including (A) inadequate notice to Brady of both his potential discipline (four-game suspension) and his alleged misconduct; (B) denial of the opportunity for Brady to examine one of two lead investigators, namely NFL Executive Vice President and General Counsel Jeff Pash; and (C) denial of equal access to investigative files, including witness interview notes.

(You can read the entire ruling here.)

Wrote Berman regarding item A: "The Court finds that Brady had no notice that he could receive a four-game suspension for general awareness of ball deflation by others or participation in any scheme to deflate footballs, and non-cooperation with the ensuing Investigation." Items B and C in the paragraph above refer to decisions that Goodell made while hearing Brady's appeal before upholding the suspension in July.

Though Berman's ruling did not address the merits of the NFL's claims about Brady, it does question whether the league's investigation of him was actually "independent," repeatedly putting the word in scare quotes. (As mentioned, an NFL VP supervised the investigation, and a lawyer from investigator Ted Wells' firm asked questions on the NFL's behalf during Brady's appeal hearing.) There has never been direct evidence that Brady knew about or managed the alleged scheme to break rules by deflating balls; the NFL's assertion that ball deflation occurred in the first place is based on generally flimsy evidence including measurements taken but not written down before the game by an NFL official.

As ESPN's Trey Wingo writes, this is the NFL's fourth high-profile legal defeat in recent cases related to player discipline: Judges or arbitrators also overturned penalties imposed by commissioner Goodell against Adrian Peterson, Ray Rice, and New Orleans Saints players involved in the "Bountygate" scandal.

The NFL season begins Thursday, Sept. 10 with a game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and ... the New England Patriots.

This post has been updated with new information.

Sept. 3 2015 10:33 AM

Is Trump About to Rule Out a Third-Party Run?

Has Donald Trump agreed to rule out a third-party run and support the Republican nominee even if that nominee’s name is not Donald Trump? We won’t know for sure until the current GOP front-runner meets the press at a 2 p.m. news conference at Trump Tower, but Politico’s Mike Allen reports that it’s a done deal:

A close associate tells POLITICO that Donald Trump plans to sign a loyalty pledge Thursday that would bind him to endorse the Republican nominee, and would preclude a third-party run. Trump made the stunning decision, which he has long resisted, to avoid complications in getting listed on primary ballots, and to take away an attack line in the next debate, the associate said.

The report comes after the Republican National Committee reached out to the entire GOP field on Wednesday, asking each candidate to sign a loyalty pledge to that effect. “I, ______, affirm that if I do not win the 2016 Republican nomination for president of the United States, I will endorse the 2016 Republican presidential nominee regardless of who it is,” the document reads. “I further pledge that I will not seek to run as an independent or write-in candidate nor will I seek or accept the nomination for president of any other party.”

The RNC request was clearly aimed directly at Trump, who has declined to rule out a third-party run—even under repeated questioning from Fox News at the first GOP debate last month in Cleveland. (The closest he came onstage to promising to support the Republican Party in the general election was this Trumpian promise: "If I’m the nominee, I will pledge I will not run as an independent.")

Trump’s set to hold an afternoon meeting with RNC Chairman Reince Priebus prior to his afternoon press conference. Since this is Trump we’re talking about, we’ll have to wait and see if he really does sign the pledge—and if he ultimately follows it. As his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, told Politico when asked to confirm the report: “I don’t think you can ‘expect’ anything from Mr. Trump.” That's not entirely true: You can always expect a show.