Justice delayed extends trial by ordeal

Judge J. C. Nicholson questions defense attorneys and prosecutors Wednesday during a hearing on delaying the start of Dylann Roof’s murder trial in Charleston. Nicholson granted the defense request and delayed the start of the trial to Jan. 17. Roof is charged with killing nine black parishioners at a Charleston church in June.

Sept. 6, 1901: Leon Czolgosz fires two rounds from a .32-caliber revolver into President William McKinley’s stomach at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, N.Y.

Sept. 14, 1901: McKinley dies of gangrene.

Sept. 26, 1901: A New York state court jury, two days after finding Czolgosz guilty of murder, sentences him to death.

Oct. 29, 1901: Czolgosz is executed in the electric chair at Auburn (N.Y., not Ala.) State Prison.

Feb. 15, 1933: Giuseppe Zangara fires six rounds from a .32-caliber revolver at the open car from which Franklin D. Roosevelt has just given an impromptu speech in Miami. The bullets don’t hit the president-elect. But two of them do strike the stomach of Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak as he stands on the car’s running board. Four other people are also wounded.

March 6, 1933: Cermak dies, two days after Roosevelt’s inauguration, from peritonitis.

March 10, 1933: Zangara is convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death by Florida Circuit Court Judge Uly Thompson.

March 20, 1933: Zangara is executed in the electric chair, aka “Old Sparky,” at the Florida State Prison in Raiford.

June 17, 2015: Nine people are shot to death during a Bible study at the Mother Emanuel AME Church on Calhoun Street.

June 18, 2015: The suspected killer, Dylann Roof, is captured in Shelby, N.C., and brought to the Cannon Detention Center in North Charleston.

June 19, 2015: Roof is charged with nine counts of first-degree murder under state law.

July 16, 2015: State Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson schedules Roof’s trial for July 11, 2016.

July 31, 2015: Roof is charged with 33 federal crimes in connection with the Emanuel case.

April 13, 2016: Judge Nicholson postpones Roof’s state trial until Jan. 17, 2017, explaining that he felt “obligated” to do so because the defendant’s psychiatric evaluation isn’t finished.

And the state trial isn’t the only one that’s been put off — again. From Thursday’s Post and Courier story about Nicholson’s decision:

“Roof also could face the death penalty in federal court, where he is charged with 33 counts, but prosecutors there have not decided whether to seek it, causing four delays in that case.”

Back to our state’s case against Roof: Though Judge Nicholson granted that postponement Wednesday, he expressed concern about whether the supposed need for additional mental health analysis was a “delaying tactic.”

No kidding.

Do the math: The gap between the deaths of McKinley and his killer was 45 days.

The gap between the deaths of Cermak and his killer was 14 days.

The gap between the deaths of the Emanuel Nine and the start of Roof’s state trial will be 580 days.

That is, if the trial actually begins on Jan. 17, 2017.

Another “justice delayed is justice denied” trend:

In this century, the average time between death sentences and those carried out in the U.S. is roughly 15 years.

Another unjust pattern in many non-murder criminal cases:

Many charged suspects who can’t afford bail long languish behind bars while awaiting trial. Some who are finally found guilty are even released on time already served.

Back to what we should do with Roof if he’s convicted:

Yes, Americans increasingly oppose capital punishment, even for mass murder motivated by vicious racism.

Yes, the Emanuel Nine’s loved ones displayed amazing grace by expressing forgiveness for Roof at his arraignment, and some of them are against sentencing him to death.

However, plenty of us still want Roof to receive the ultimate penalty — death — if found guilty of this atrocity.

No, the good folks killed at Mother Emanuel weren’t presidents or mayors.

But one of them, Clementa Pinckney, was the church’s pastor — and a state senator.

Roof has a right to a fair trial, so his attorneys rate enough time to get a fair assessment of his mental health.

Yet why take so long to evaluate him, then try him, then convict or acquit him?

Then, if he’s found guilty and condemned to death, why take so long to carry out that utterly just sentence?

How can you determine if a person was insane while committing a murder anyway?

How can you figure out, long after a murder, a killer’s mental condition at the time of the vile deed?

And isn’t murder itself at least sort of insane?

OK, so some folks might think it’s crazy to long for a distant past when rushes to judgment at times wrought tragic injustices.

Then again, our current practice of crawling to judgment is crazy, too.

So stop stalling justice.

As for my plea on behalf of those of us accused of being eager to see death-penalty justice executed — and soon — in the Emanuel Nine case:

Guilty as charged.

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.