In the federal case against him, Dylann Roof was just convicted on all thirty-three charges. He will attempt to defend himself (without the assistance of attorneys) during the penalty phase of the trial. He already tried and failed to plea down to a life imprisonment sentence. And, even if he isn’t executed by the federal government, he also is facing a death penalty case from the South Carolina government.

Chances are, then, that he’ll eventually die for his crimes.

That’s not what most of the survivors and family members want to see. And it’s not what we should want either.

His crimes against the parishioners of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church are barbaric enough to warrant the strongest available penalty. If a single person is executed for anything anywhere in this country, then certainly Roof deserves no less of a fate.

But even if you can satisfy yourself that the death penalty is sometimes a just punishment, and you’re certain that this case is a slam-dunk as to guilt, the death penalty is still inappropriate because its use in one case justifies its use in other cases where things may not be as open and shut.

We should stop executing people. We’re never going to have a foolproof and just system for establishing guilt, or even for making the decision on whether to charge one person and not another. Dylann Roof thought he had a well thought out rationale for executing people. He was wrong.

The federal government, especially, should take a lesson from that.

It’s not about what Dylann Roof deserves. It’s about what we all deserve, and that’s a criminal justice system that doesn’t have the hubris and the conceit to believe that its perfect enough to kill people.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at