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Charleston church shooter makes appellate arguments against death sentence

(Source: CCDC)
(Source: CCDC)(CCDC)
Updated: May. 24, 2021 at 4:12 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The man on federal death row for the racist slayings of nine members of a Black South Carolina congregation is making his appellate argument that his conviction and death sentence should be overturned.

Oral arguments in the case of Dylann Roof are scheduled to be held Tuesday before a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, Virginia. Appellate Judge Jay Richardson, who as an assistant U.S. Attorney prosecuted Roof’s case, is not part of the panel.

In 2017, Roof became the first person in the U.S. sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. Authorities have said Roof opened fire during the closing prayer of a 2015 Bible study session at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME Church, raining down dozens of bullets on those assembled. Roof was 21 years old at the time.

In a lengthy brief, Roof’s attorneys argue that an appellate court should vacate Roof’s convictions and death sentence, or remand his case to court for a “proper competency evaluation.”

“The federal trial that resulted in his death-sentence departed so far from the standard required when the government seeks the ultimate price that it cannot be affirmed,” they wrote, arguing that their client’s mental illness should have prevented him from serving as his own attorney during a portion of the trial, and also being sent to federal death row.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel held two competency hearings for Roof: one before the start of his trial, and one before its sentencing phase, to determine if Roof could act as his own attorney for that portion of the trial. His appellate team wrote that the court errantly found Roof competent, despite the fact that “every defense expert agreed Roof suffered a delusional belief he would be rescued by the victors of a race-war, which prevented him from understanding the threat of execution was real.”

In that part of the trial, the self-avowed white supremacist neither fought for his life nor explained his actions, saying only that “anyone who hates anything in their mind has a good reason for it.”

This, his attorneys wrote, resulted in “a complete breakdown” of any possible defense, with jurors being “left in the dark” about any details from Roof’s past that could have possibly been used to mitigate the government’s “inflammatory case for death.”

Following his federal trial, Roof was given nine consecutive life sentences after pleading guilty in 2017 to state murder charges, leaving him to await execution in federal prison and sparing his victims and their families the burden of a second trial.

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