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9 life sentences in state case on Charleston church slayings
Headline Legal News | 2017/04/12 16:26
With Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof getting nine life sentences in state court on top of a federal death sentence, his prosecutions are finally over - and some relatives of the nine parishioners he killed at a historically black church say they can finally begin to heal.

Nadine Collier, daughter of the slain 70-year-old Ethel Lance, wore a white suit to Roof's sentencing Monday; a color she said lets the world know a chapter in her life had closed.

"I will not open that book again," she said to Roof, before he was sentenced. "I just want to say, have mercy on your soul."

The 23-year-old avowed white supremacist said nothing in his own defense as he was sentenced Monday on nine counts of murder, along with three charges of attempted murder and a weapons charge. He was taken from court back to the Charleston County jail, where he'll await transfer to a federal prison and, ultimately, the federal system's death row in Terre Haute, Indiana.

Roof's plea deal came in exchange for an agreement that state prosecutors would drop their own pursuit of the death penalty against him for the June 2015 slaughter at Emanuel AME Church. Judge J.C. Nicholson handed down nine consecutive life sentences.

Roof stood at the defense table with his attorneys, clad in a gray and white striped jail jumpsuit and handcuffed to a chain at his waist.

The deal, Solicitor Scarlett Wilson said, serves as an "insurance policy" in the event that Roof's federal conviction falls apart. But it also means the families of the nine people he killed don't have to endure a second grueling trial.

Roof was 21 when he walked into a Wednesday night Bible study session at the historic church known as Mother Emanuel. As witnesses testified in his federal trial last year, Roof waited until the session's closing minutes to unload 77 shots into his victims as they shut their eyes in a final prayer.

Survivors testified during the federal trial, evoking chilling images of the bloody Wednesday night tableau. Jennifer Pinckney, widow of slain pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, brought some jurors to tears as she told how she shielded her young daughter in her husband's office while the bullets rang out in the nearby fellowship hall.

At Roof's first court appearance on the day after his arrest, his victims' relatives spoke of forgiveness, with some saying they mourned their loved ones but would pray for his lost soul. The families of what have become known as the Emanuel Nine have been widely lauded for their willingness to forgive in the face of sorrow but also, in embrace of their strong faith, to pray the man who drastically altered their lives would find peace himself.



California court expands endangered-species removal powers
Headline Legal News | 2017/03/05 16:21
The California Supreme Court on Monday said petitioners seeking to remove a subset of coho salmon from the state's endangered species list could present new evidence to argue the listing was wrong.

In a unanimous ruling, the court overturned a lower court decision that said efforts to remove the salmon and other species could only argue that the listing was no longer necessary.

The high court decision came in a lawsuit by Big Creek Lumber Co. and the Central Coast Forest Association, which includes forest landowners. They filed a petition to remove a subset of coho salmon from the state's endangered species list, arguing that the listing was wrong because the fish were not native to the area and were introduced and maintained there artificially using hatcheries.

The fight was over coho salmon in streams south of San Francisco. The Fish and Game Commission listed those salmon as endangered in 1995.

Environmental groups were keeping a close eye on the case to see whether the court would rule on the native species argument. It did not do that and instead sent the case back to the appeals court for that determination.

"We don't accept that they are not native fish just because they are hatchery raised," said Lisa Belenky, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, which filed a brief in the case.



Court officer investigated for photographing lawyer's notes
Headline Legal News | 2017/03/04 16:20
A court security officer in Maine has been placed on leave while under investigation for sending a cellphone photo of a defense attorney's notes to a prosecutor.

The Kennebec Journal reports that court officials are calling the incident a serious ethical breach and violation of courtroom protocol.

Sgt. Joel Eldridge took the photo Tuesday as a judge and attorneys discussed a case involving robbery, aggravated assault and criminal mischief. Assistant District Attorney Francis Griffin told the judge he saw the photo on his phone and reported the incident to the district attorney.

Defense attorney Sherry Tash said she was told the photo showed her notes of a person's name and number. Eldridge declined comment. He's on administrative leave with pay pending an internal investigation by the Kennebec County Sheriff's Department.


Florida Legislature at "Open War" with State Supreme Court
Headline Legal News | 2017/02/27 16:22
The Republican-dominated Legislature's tense relationship with the state Supreme Court is hanging over this year's legislative session as lawmakers take up two bills to deal with the aftermath of court rulings that Republicans don't like.

One of them is a fix to the state's death penalty rules and the other a revision of the "stand your ground" law to better protect defendants claiming self-defense.

It's no surprise that two other bills are seen as a shot back at the court - a proposal to limit justices' terms to 12 years and a bill that would require them to file reports to the governor and Legislature on the timeliness of their decisions.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran says one of his highest priorities is to "reign in" the Supreme Court.

Former Supreme Court Justice James Perry said the Legislature is at "open war" with the judiciary, but he said the Legislature can't control the court.


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