Dylann Roof’s bid to overturn his conviction in the 2015 Charleston church massacre set to begin


“When Dylann Roof represented himself at his capital trial, he was a 22-year-old, ninth-grade dropout diagnosed with schizophrenia-spectrum disorder, autism, anxiety, and depression, who believed his sentence didn’t matter because white nationalists would free him from prison after an impending race war,” the filing says.

Oral arguments, slated to begin Tuesday at 10 a.m. ET in federal court in Richmond, Virginia, could last up to three hours. Roof’s attorneys’ federal filing has a table of contents that alone spans 13 pages. It lays out a litany of arguments related to Roof’s alleged incompetency to stand trial and inability to represent himself. It challenges the validity of both the guilty verdict and death sentence, in part, by claiming the trial court ignored evidence of Roof’s incompetency, denied him a “full and fair competency hearing” and forced him to stand trial.

It goes on to say, “Indeed, the federal trial shouldn’t have happened at all. South Carolina swiftly brought capital charges for Roof’s wholly-intrastate crime. Months later, federal prosecutors intervened, using novel theories of jurisdiction to seek their own death sentence — a move unwelcomed by the State, who viewed the federal prosecution as unnecessary and disruptive.”

Two US Justice Department attorneys intend to argue that there was nothing inappropriate about the trial court’s determination that Roof was competent to stand trial. Other elements of the original trial — including the court’s decision to let Roof represent himself — were sound as well, they will argue.

“No error occurred at the penalty phase. The district court did not improperly preclude Roof from introducing mitigating evidence or admit improper aggravating evidence that characterized Roof or the parishioners in a prejudicial way, and any error was harmless. The death penalty was not plainly erroneous based on Roof’s age or mental condition,” the Justice Department brief says. “Finally, Roof’s convictions rest on sound legal and constitutional grounds.”

Dylann Roof was convicted of killing nine people at a historic African American church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Roof represented himself at the penalty phase of the trial, telling jurors, “There’s nothing wrong with me psychologically” and to disregard his attorneys’ previous arguments during the trial.

“Anything you heard from my lawyers in the last phase, I ask you to forget it,” he said.

Prosecutors presented evidence of chilling writings from a jailhouse journal he penned after the attack.

“I would like to make it crystal clear. I do not regret what I did,” Roof wrote. “I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.”

Roof’s mental state was explored in detail in documents from Roof’s competency hearings and videos from three prison visits. According to one transcript, Roof told a psychologist working for his defense team that his death penalty wouldn’t be carried out because he’d “be rescued by white nationalists after they took over the government.”

CNN’s Eric Levenson and Tina Burnside contributed to this report.

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