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Virginia death penalty opponent David Bruck defends Dylann Roof

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Three years ago or so, I was waiting my turn to check in for my annual visit to a United States Supreme Court oral argument. There in front of me was David Bruck, a giant in a modest man’s clothing and visage who greeted me gently and warmly without a hint of feeling any self-importance.

While I fumed as a late 1980’s law student — before the Internet existed to collaborate with like-minded people — over every Supreme Court opinion that allowed the death penalty to resume and thrive, and grieved about neighboring Virginia’s tireless death penalty machine, David Bruck had already been putting his money where his mouth was, fighting this system of legalized murder in the courthouse trenches. Years would pass before I heard of him.

Now, after finally getting some sense knocked into him, Dylann Roof recently decided to reverse his decision to represent himself in his ongoing capital trial for his racist massacring of Charleston, South Carolina, church attendees. Roof hit the jackpot by getting David Bruck as his lawyer.

Washington & Lee law professor David Bruck believes in murderers getting their just desserts, while at the same time opposing the death penalty.

It is one thing to spout opposition to the death penalty, and quite another to fight in the pits of the courthouse and beyond for the life of a capital defendant, where spouting death penalty opposition means nothing to obtain victory, but where that opposition can inspire a successful battle for the defendant.

As I recently looked up David’s background, I learned that he is the very reason that my hero Judy Clark joined Susan Smith’s capital defense team, with Judy’s never before having tried a death penalty case. As the New Yorker puts it: When Judy “protested that she had never tried a death-penalty case, Bruck said, ‘That’s not what I need. I need you.'” Hell yeah!

David later joined Judy on the trial defense team for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. And now he is fighting for Dylann Roof’s life.

Virginia’s criminal justice system overly favors the prosecution, with unfairly crabbed discovery rules that foster trial by ambush, with no Jencks rule to entitle the defense to obtain prosecution witness statements, and with prosecutors able to pressure criminal defendants to plead guilty when prosecutors refuse to waive a trial by jury, where a convicting jury recommends the sentence without the jurors knowing the voluntary sentencing guidelines and without being able to recommend a suspended portion of the sentence nor probation. For me, I see and feel a glimmer of inspiring and comforting light and warmth among that darkness with such devoted Virginia-based lawyers for justice as David Bruck.

Deeply thanking and bowing to David Bruck.