Court Battles

Appeals court declines to take up Dylann Roof's death sentence challenge

A federal appeals court has declined to take up Dylann Roof's challenge to a three-judge panel's decision to uphold his conviction and death sentence in the 2015 killings of nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C.

A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals filed a one-page order Friday declining Roof's petition for a panel rehearing after his legal team argued earlier this month that the matter should go before the full appeals court.

Roof's attorneys had argued that they believe their client's death sentence was issued in part due to prosecutors' efforts to portray the victims in a positive light, which the Supreme Court has previously said is only permitted in certain circumstances.

The lawyers wrote in their court filing, "The Panel's decision conflicts with this precedent, opening the door to death sentences based on victims' goodness and worth."

"Especially troubling, it sanctions reliance on victims' religiosity as evidence of that heightened worth," they added at the time.

The Hill has reached out to an attorney for Roof for comment on Friday's order. 

The challenge came after a three-judge panel of the same federal appeals court unanimously ruled late last month to uphold the death sentence, writing in a 149-page decision that Roof's "crimes qualify him for the harshest penalty that a just society can impose." 

"We have reached that conclusion not as a product of emotion but through a thorough analytical process, which we have endeavored to detail here," they added.

Roof was convicted in 2016 on 33 counts, including federal hate crime charges. Authorities discovered he promoted white supremacist views online leading up to the massacre, and the then-22-year-old also told authorities after his arrest that he wanted to start a race war.

Roof's attorneys first filed to appeal to his conviction and sentence in January 2020, arguing that their client was a young "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."

On the first day of oral arguments in Roof's appeal in May of this year, his attorneys argued that the court should vacate the conviction and sentence or bring the case back to court for a "proper competency evaluation."

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