Judge denies accused killer Brandon Council’s motion to strike the death penalty in his upcoming trial

Judge denies accused killer Brandon Council’s motion to strike the death penalty in his upcoming trial

FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) – Federal prosecutors can still seek the death penalty for the man accused of killing two employees during the August 2017 CresCom Bank robbery in Conway.

That was the decision handed down in an order filed May 7 in the U.S. District Court in Florence, denying defendant Brandon Council’s motion to strike the death penalty in the case against him.

In his motion, Council argued the death penalty: violates the Eighth Amendment in light of the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society;” it operates in an “arbitrary and capricious manner because the federal death penalty ‘is so infrequently sought, imposed, or carried out;’” and it is used “unconstitutionally and disproportionately to those charged with the murder of white, female victims.”

Council, who is black, is accused of murdering Donna Major and Katie Skeen, both white, during the robbery.

“He asserts, ‘this case presents a clear danger that the race of the defendant and/or the race of the victim influenced the decision to seek the death penalty or will influence the jury’s ultimate decision,’” court documents state. “Defendant argues the FDPA (Federal Death Penalty Act) is unconstitutional because it is applied disproportionately to those accused of killing white, female victims and because it has a ‘demonstrable white-victim effect.’”

U.S. District Judge Bryan Harwell applied case law in his decision to deny Council’s motion to strike the death penalty.

Harwell also submitted an order on a defense motion to suppress Council’s visitor logs at the Florence County Detention Center.

According to that motion, with respect to expert witness visitors, federal law recognized that a defendant is entitled to have access to expert assistance “without the government’s knowledge.”

In his order, Harwell noted the defendant and the government reached an agreement on the handling of the jail visitation logs.

That agreement included logs not being produced in the event they exclusively contain records of visitation by experts or defense team members identified in a list given to a “taint team” consisting of an FBI agent and an assistant U.S. attorney, both of whom are not involved in the case.

The stipulation here is if an individual is identified by defense counsel as a testifying witness or expert, the log entries identifying those visits can be made available to the prosecution, according to the order.

Council’s trial is currently scheduled for September.

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