MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Federal prosecutors filed two responses to defense motions in the case against Brandon Michael Council, including defending the decision to pursue the death penalty.
Council faces a death sentence after he allegedly shot and killed Katie Skeen and Donna Major during the robbery of the CresCom bank in Conway in August 2017.
MOTION TO STRIKE THE DEATH PENALTY
Among the new documents filed Wednesday was the government’s response to the defense’s motion to strike the death penalty.
In the response, prosecutors cited precedent the case against convicted Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof. The government says, similarly to that case, the defense fails to give a compelling legal or factual reason to dismiss the death penalty.
MOTION TO STRIKE NON-STATUTORY AGGRAVATING FACTORS
Another motion filed by the defense September 12 asked the court to strike non-statutory aggravating factors. An aggravating factor is defined as any fact or circumstance that increases the severity or guilt of a criminal act.
The government said in its notice of intent to seek the death penalty, it plans to examine factors including victim impact, Council’s continuing and escalating pattern of criminal activity, targeting innocent victims and lack of remorse.
Council’s attorneys argue victim impact in this case is unconstitutional. However, the prosecution says that testimony from family and friends is important saying, "(Council) knew he took away the lives of unique persons when he killed the victims and he knew that his actions would have a profound effect on those who loved them. He must not now be able to shield himself from hearing the stories of that loss and having his sentencing jury consider those stories when making the reasoned moral decision of whether to sentence him to death.”
The defense asked the court for more notice for that described victim testimony. The prosecution argues that would be unfair to the victims’ family members and friends because it would essentially require them to preview or script their testimony. Prosecutors claim “the victims’ deaths took an emotional toll on each of these ‘survivors,’ and that emotional toll is renewed every time they are asked to talk about the victims.” The response also argues that pain is not something the court should ask the witnesses to do more than once or require the witnesses to script.
Those victim impact statements may come from the victims’ friends, co-workers and employer. Prosecutors say this testimony will give the jury a view of unique characteristics of the victims because they were murdered in a small bank branch in a tight-knit community. For that reason, the government wants the jury to hear the loss the community feels to help jurors see a full picture of the damage caused by Council’s alleged actions.
TARGETING INNOCENT VICTIMS, ESCALATING PATTERN OF CRIMINAL ACTIVITY AND LACK OF REMORSE
The defense wants the court to drop other arguments from prosecutors, including the fact that the victims were innocent. The government argues Council could have successfully robbed the CresCom bank without murdering two of its employees.
Prosecutors also argue Council’s escalating pattern of criminal activity is valid in this case because he’s accused of committing multiple other robberies within days of the CresCom bank robbery and murders.
As for the fourth factor, lack of remorse, the government says during an interview August 23, Council provided extensive evidence of lack of remorse. However, Council’s statement is currently sealed and the government could not detail in these documents how that lack of remorse is demonstrated. The response says, “…even a quick review of the sealed statement makes it clear that the Defendant’s attitude after the murders and robbery was incompatible with remorse.”
In addition to these new documents, we’ve learned there will be a hearing October 18 on the motion to delay the trial. Originally, jury selection was scheduled to begin at the beginning of this month. That hearing will take place at 2:00 PM at the federal courthouse in Florence.