Jay Richardson

Federal prosecutor Jay Richardson. Provided

President Donald Trump on Thursday nominated federal prosecutor Julius "Jay" Richardson, widely known for prosecuting mass killer Dylann Roof, to serve on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Virginia.

Richardson, 42, is deputy criminal chief of the U.S. Attorney's Office in Columbia. A Barnwell native, he clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist and 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard A. Posner.

The U.S. Senate still must confirm Richardson for the life appointment. 

In South Carolina, he is best known as the lead prosecutor in Roof's long and emotional death penalty trial, which ended in early 2017.

Richardson prevailed against nationally renowned defense attorney and death penalty opponent David Bruck, who also rose to prominence through his legal work in South Carolina.

In court, Richardson balanced warmth for the shooting survivors and victims' loved ones who testified with a keen focus on the worst horrors of Roof's crimes. In his closing argument, he told jurors why Roof should die for killing nine worshipers at Emanuel AME Church.

He described the killer's "callous execution of people — of people that he described to you in his writings as mere brute animals, people that he believed were subhuman, that were less than human. That is how he's able to walk around and pump round after round after round into their bodies." 

Attorney Andy Savage, who represents the shooting survivors and several victims' families, lauded Richardson's nomination

"His legal and trial skills are phenomenal. But more important is Jay's character. I've never met somebody who has the character he does," Savage said.

For instance, when survivor Felicia Sanders testified, Richardson quietly wore a lavender tie — the favorite color of her son, Tywanza, who died in the shooting.

"That's the great touch with him," Savage added.

State Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Hartsville, predicted the U.S. Senate will approve Richardson with ease and applauded the White House for selecting an apolitical candidate with a sharp legal mind. Malloy, an attorney, represents the widow of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who also died in the shooting.

"Jay Richardson is an excellent choice," Malloy said. "He demonstrated every quality you want a judge to have in how he handled Roof."

After law school, Richardson practiced at a private firm in Washington, D.C., focusing on fraud, intellectual and antitrust disputes. He returned to South Carolina in 2009 to join the U.S. Attorney's office where he has handled a range of criminal cases.

His other prominent convictions include former Lexington County Sheriff James Metts, who was sentenced to a year in prison for his role in a scheme to house illegal immigrants at the county jail to avoid federal detection. He also prosecuted Michael Young, who used a cellphone in prison to run a thriving business and order a mail bomb with Bitcoin to send to his ex-wife.

Even though Richardson graduated from the University of Chicago Law School and served as articles editor of its law review, jurisprudence wasn't his first career move. In 1999, he graduated with a biology degree from Vanderbilt University, then moved to Hawaii where he worked at a poolside restaurant. 

However, Richardson was born into a family of legal minds. His maternal grandfather and namesake was Julius "Bubba" Ness, former chief justice of the South Carolina Supreme Court, who retired in 1988. His father and brother also are attorneys, and his wife, Macon, earned her law degree from the University of Chicago. They have four daughters.

Attorneys Savage and Malloy agreed that, if confirmed, Richardson won't be a political crusader on the court.

"Jay will have a huge impact," Savage said. "But he will not make political decisions. He will make well-reasoned decisions determined by applicable facts and legal precedent."

On Thursday, Trump also nominated Marvin Quattlebaum, who was an attorney with the Nelson Mullins firm in Greenville, to the 4th Circuit.

Quattlebaum just started serving as a federal judge in South Carolina after he was confirmed last month by the U.S. Senate despite criticism by Democrats. They were angry that South Carolina's Republican senators had rejected two African American nominees for the seat submitted by President Barack Obama.

Contact Jennifer Hawes at 843-937-5563. Follow her on Twitter @jenberryhawes.

Jennifer Berry Hawes is a member of the Watchdog and Public Service team who worked on the newspaper's Pulitzer-Prize winning investigation, "Till Death Do Us Part."