Court Battles

Lawyers argue ‘delusional’ Dylann Roof shouldn’t have been allowed to represent himself

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Attorneys for Dylann Roof, the self-proclaimed white supremacist who was sentenced to death for the 2015 murders of nine members of a Black South Carolina church, argued Tuesday that their client should not have been allowed to represent himself during his trial because of his “delusional belief” he would be saved by white nationalists. 

On the first day of oral arguments in Roof’s appeal to overturn his conviction and murder sentence, attorneys said that the court should either vacate Roof’s convictions and death sentence or bring the case back to court for a “proper competency evaluation,” The Associated Press reported. 

In 2017, Roof was found guilty on 33 federal charges after opening fire on members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church when he was 21 years old. 

He was charged with hate crimes resulting in death, later becoming the first person sentenced to death for a federal hate crime in the U.S.

Roof’s attorneys now argue that their client, who represented himself during the sentencing portion of his trial, was able to prevent jurors from hearing evidence related to his mental health because he was “under the delusion” that “he would be rescued from prison by white-nationalists — but only, bizarrely, if he kept his mental-impairments out of the public record.”

Appellate attorney Alexandra Yates argued Tuesday before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, that Roof had chosen to not use his defense lawyers during his sentencing because the trial judge instructed the defendant to keep his attorneys and allow the use of mental health evidence during his sentencing, or keep the evidence out by dropping his defense team. 

The AP noted that U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel had held competency hearings before Roof’s trial and sentencing to determine if Roof could act as his own attorney. 

Yates argued Tuesday, ”A defendant need not forgo the assistance of experienced attorneys, in order to remain master of his own defense, with the right to choose the objective of that defense.” 

While Gergel, an Obama appointee, told Roof during the trial that he thought it was “strategically unwise,” to represent himself, he added, “it is a decision you have a right to make.”

Roof’s lawyers first filed to appeal their client’s conviction and death sentence in January 2020, arguing in the 321-page document that Roof 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.”

Tags appeals court Black church Charleston Charleston shooting death sentence Dylann Roof South Carolina The Associated Press White supremacy

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