Attorneys for Dylann Roof filed paperwork this week to take the next step in the appeals process. The church shooter’s conviction was upheld last month by a three-judge panel in South Carolina who said the legal record can’t even encapsulate the “full horror” of what he did on June 17, 2015.
Now, Roof’s attorneys are arguing that a legal clause of the US Constitution was interpreted too broadly by the panel and are seeking a rehearing for the gunman.
The petition, filed Wednesday (September 8) with the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals, argues that the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which grants Congress the authority to regulate commerce among the states, was interpreted too broadly by the judge panel. Federal prosecutors argued that Roof’s Internet use to post his racist views and to research Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston constituted “interstate commerce,” which would fall under that Constitutional clause.
Roof’s attorneys are saying that that interpretation by the three-judge panel is “an amorphous, unprecedented, and all-encompassing standard for federal Commerce Clause jurisdiction over local crime, effectively nullifying states’ traditional police power in that arena.”
In 2017, Roof became the first person in American history to be sentenced to death for a federal hate crime after he opened fire on churchgoers attending weekly Bible study. Roof’s attorneys argued that the then 21-year-old was wrongly allowed to represent himself during sentencing –– a key point in his trial. His lawyers say Roof was “under the delusion” that if told jurors about his mental health, “he would be rescued from prison by white nationalists –– but only, bizarrely, if he kept his mental-impairments out of the public record.”
His attorneys want his convictions and death sentence to be vacated or his case should get back to the courtroom for a “proper competency evaluation.” The 4th Circuit did not find any error by the trial judge in allowing Roof to represent himself.
"No cold record or careful parsing of statues and precedents can capture the full horror of what Roof did," the judges wrote. "His crimes qualify him for the harsher penalty that a just society can impose."
Roof was sentenced to nine consecutive life sentences after pleading guilty to state murder charges in 2017, leaving him to wait in prison for federal execution.
Earlier this year, US Attorney General Merrick Garland paused federal executions after Donald Trump's administration sped up the executions of 13 –– mostly Black –– people within the last months of his presidency.
As far as other appeal options Roof has, according to the Associated Press, he could file 2255 appeal to request the trial court review the constitutionality of his conviction and sentence. He could also petition the US Supreme Court or try to get a presidential pardon.
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