Defense: Brandon Council will plead guilty if the government drops the death penalty

Defense: Brandon Council will plead guilty if the government drops the death penalty
(Source: Florence County Detention Center)

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - New court documents in the case against Brandon Council outline several new developments, including Council’s willingness to plead guilty if prosecutors drop the death penalty, which the defense claims is “irrational” and unconstitutional due to racial discrimination. Other documents ask the court to continue the trial, saying the prosecution needs more time to prepare.

Council is accused of shooting and killing Donna Major and Katie Skeen while robbing the CresCom Bank in Conway in August 2017.

In a motion filed September 18, the defense moves to strike the death penalty as a possible punishment in this case, claiming this case is only going to court because the government wants to seek Council’s death rather than accepting his guilty pleas. The documents say the prosecution doesn’t want to accept his “willingness to die in prison while serving multiple sentences of life imprisonment without possibility of release.” The defense says Council will withdraw this motion and plead guilty to all counts if the prosecution withdraws the death notice.

In a second motion filed the same day, the defense also says the death penalty is applied “unconstitutionally and disproportionately to those charged with the murder of white, female victims.” Council’s attorneys say the court must strike the death penalty due to racial discrimination. The documents say the combination of a black defendant and white victims has resulted in “grossly disproportionate death sentences.” It also says the race and gender of victims, particularly when those victims are white females, plays a strong role in the application of the death penalty. Additionally, the attorneys argue the death penalty hasn’t been sought for the murder of minority victims during bank robberies, and its application in this case shows racial discrimination in the targeting of minority defendants.

The documents go on to outline why the defense feels the death penalty would not be legal. Attorneys for Council say the court must closely examine the Federal Death Penalty Act to decide whether capital punishment is legal. The defense claims the death penalty is arbitrary and more aggravated cases have resulted in life sentences rather than capital punishment. The documents also claim Council should not be executed because of the Eighth Amendment and “evolving standards of decency that mark the maturation of a civilized society.”

One day after these motions were filed, the judge ordered the prosecution to file responses to these motions by October 9.

To read the full court documents, see below:

1 Motion to Strike Dpby on Scribd

2 Motion to Strike Dpby on Scribd

In another motion filed September 20, the defense asked the judge to delay the jury selection and trial of this case claiming counsel needs more time for effective preparation. In July, the U.S. District Court of South Carolina filed documents saying a jury summons and questionnaire would be sent to 2,000 randomly chosen people from a district-wide pool October 1 for a January 2019 trial.

Council’s attorneys say they’ve discussed a possible continuance with the prosecution before filing the motion. The government reportedly did not object to a continuance of 90 days. The defense says its done its best to prepare for a trial beginning January 14, but denying more time to prepare will deprive Council of his right to fair trial.

In a response filed Tuesday, the government believes a 90 day continuance will give counsel enough time to prepare. However, the prosecution says the court considered the same arguments made by the defense when setting the current January 2019 trial date. That’s why the government asks the court not to let any granted continuance exceed 90 days.

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