Dylann Roof takes church shooting appeal to US Supreme Court

Published: Mar. 2, 2022 at 2:27 PM EST|Updated: Mar. 2, 2022 at 6:14 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP/WCSC) - Attorneys for convicted church shooter Dylann Roof have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to decide how to handle disagreements over mental illness-related evidence between capital defendants and their attorneys.

The pastor of Mother Emanuel AME Church, State Sen. and the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and eight parishioners died in the shooting. Roof was sentenced to death in the June 17, 2015 attack that came at the end of a Wednesday night Bible Study.

Roof fired his legal team and represented himself at sentencing, purportedly to keep jurors from hearing evidence about his mental health.

His attorneys say other courts would have allowed Roof to keep his attorneys while ensuring they didn’t present evidence he didn’t want.

A three-judge panel with the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the death sentence for Roof in August.

“No cold record or careful parsing of statutes and precedents can capture the full horror of what Roof did,” the court’s ruling stated. “His crimes qualify him for the harshest penalty that a just society can impose.”

The ruling also stated that when he was arrested, “he frankly confessed, with barely a hint of remorse.”

Roof’s attorneys argued over a range of topics including his competency. Roof underwent two competency hearings. The first took place in 2016 before his trial began. The second took place to determine whether he could represent himself during sentencing after he moved to fire his attorney before the penalty phase.

His attorneys argued Tuesday the lower court should never have allowed Roof to represent himself citing his mental illness.

“[He] didn’t want to represent himself at his capital trial, and never should have been forced to,” appellate attorney Alexandra Yates said during arguments in May. “He waived counsel for one reason and one reason alone and that was to prevent his attorneys from presenting mental health evidence that he thought would ruin his reputation and undermine the reasons for committing his crime.”

SPECIAL: Remembering the Emanuel 9

Court documents state Roof stood trial while mentally ill under the “delusion he would be rescued from prison by white-nationalists.” But his attorneys said he believed that rescue would only happen if he kept quiet about his mental state. They argued while there were witnesses ready to testify to Roof’s mental state, Roof never called on them.

Such testimony, they argued, could have stopped a federal jury from sentencing him to death.

The prosecution, meanwhile, argued Roof had the opportunity to present the evidence but did not do so.

“This is a problem that certainly could have been solved at the time with appropriate attention from Roof or from his standby counsel,” Department of Justice attorney Ann O’Connell Adams said during the appeal. “I don’t think there’s any chance the jury would have returned a different verdict if they found the government could deal with Roof as he continued to misbehave in prison.”

Roof’s lawyers filed a petition with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in September seeking to challenge the court’s confirmation of his conviction and death sentence.

Roof became the first person in the United States sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. Roof filed his appeal in 2017.

In addition to Pinckney, the shooting claimed the lives of Mother Emanuel parishioners Cynthia Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Daniel Simmons, the Rev. Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson.

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