Dylann Roof’s Attorneys Make Appeal To Vacate Death Sentence

Attorneys for Dylann Roof, the man who killed nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, argued Tuesday (May 25) that he shouldn’t have been able to represent himself during part of his trial. Roof’s legal team cited his “delusional belief” that white nationalists would save Roof only if he didn’t put mental health evidence into his defense should have proven to the trial judge at the time that he wasn’t competent to represent himself. 

According to a report by The Huffington Post, Roof’s attorneys argued before a three-judge panel this week, asking the court to vacate both Roof’s conviction and his death sentence, or remand the case to court so that a “proper competency evaluation” could take place. The attorneys argued that Roof wasn’t given this evaluation during his trial in 2017.

The Arguments

Roof’s attorneys claim that while he was representing himself during sentencing, he didn’t present evidence about his mental health, “under the delusion,” that “he would be rescued from prison by white-nationalist –– but only, bizarrely, if he kept his mental-impairments out of the public record.”

Two competency hearings were held for Roof by US District Judge Richard Gergel one before the start of his trial and another before his sentencing to decide if Roof was competent to represent himself. On Tuesday (May 25), appeals attorney Sapna Mirchandani said the second competency hearing didn’t include experts who might’ve argued against Roof’s competency and thus “blinded itself” from determining if Roof acted out of prejudice or from mental illness. 

Ann O’Connell Adams of the US Department of Justice argued that Judge Gergel noted in the second competency hearing that Gergel reviewed a prior evaluation of Roof. That review, Adams said, showed Roof acknowledged that his rescue by white supremacists would likely not happen. 

“Roof confirmed that he understood there was a high likelihood that he would be sentenced to death, and that the chance of being rescued was very small,” Adams said this week. “Roof was not making an irrational calculation that his best way to stay alive was to keep out the mental health mitigation evidence.”

Following the 2017 trial, Roof became the first person in the US to be given a death sentence for a federal hate crime. On June 17, 2015, Roof opened fire during the closing prayer of Bible study at Mother Emanuel AME Church, killing nine people, including senior pastor and state Senator Clementa C. Pinckney

Roof, the self-professed white supremacist, only explained his actions during his trial that “anyone who hates anything in their mind has a good reason for it.” 

Photos: Getty Images

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