Court upholds death sentence for church shooter Dylann Roof

Dylann Roof, shown here in his police reservation photo, is a white supremacist who killed nine people during a prayer service at an African-American church in 2015. His bowl-shaped haircut has been appropriate as symbol by white supremacists and is now considered a symbol of hatred. (Charleston County Sheriff’s Office)

25 August 2021


RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld the conviction and death sentence of Dylann Roof for the racist murders of nine members of a black South Carolina congregation in 2015, saying the legal record can’t even capture the “full horror” of what he’s doing.

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A unanimous panel of three judges from the 4th United States Court of Appeals in Richmond rejected arguments that the young white man should have been declared unfit to stand trial in the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston .

In 2017, Roof became the first person in the United States to be sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. Authorities said Roof opened fire during a church Bible study closing prayer, raining dozens of bullets on those gathered. He was 21 at the time.

In his appeal, attorneys for Roof argued that he was wrongly allowed to represent himself in sentencing, a critical phase of his trial. Roof succeeded in preventing jurors from hearing any evidence of his sanity, “under the illusion,” his lawyers argued, that “he would be rescued from prison by white nationalists – but only, oddly, was he he kept his mental disorder out of public record. “

Roof’s lawyers have said his convictions and death sentence should be overturned or his case should be referred to court for a “proper jurisdictional assessment.”

The 4th Circuit concluded that the trial judge did not err when he found Roof to be qualified to stand trial and scathingly reprimanded Roof’s crimes.

“Dylann Roof murdered African Americans in their church, during their Bible study and worship. They had welcomed him. He slaughtered them. He did so with the express intention of terrorizing not only his immediate victims in the historically significant Mother Emanuel Church, but as many similar people who would hear of the mass murder, ”the panel wrote in its ruling.

“No cold recording or careful analysis of laws and precedents can capture the full horror of what Roof did. His crimes qualify him for the harshest sentence a just society can impose, ”the judges wrote.

One of Roof’s attorneys, Margaret Alice-Anne Farrand, deputy federal counsel, declined to comment on the decision.

All of the judges on the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers South Carolina, recused themselves from hearing Roof’s appeal; one of their own, Judge Jay Richardson, pursued Roof’s case as an assistant to the US attorney. The panel that heard the arguments in May and delivered its decision on Wednesday was made up of judges from several other appeal circuits.

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

Last month, however, Attorney General Merrick Garland declared a moratorium and halted all federal executions while the Justice Department reviewed its execution policies and procedures. The review comes after a historic string of death sentences at the end of the Trump administration, which carried out 13 executions in six months. A federal lawsuit has also been filed over execution protocols – including the risk of pain and suffering associated with the use of pentobarbital, the drug used for lethal injection.

President Joe Biden, as a candidate, has said he will work to end federal executions. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in March he continued to have “serious concerns” about the matter.

Biden has ties to the case. As vice president, Biden attended the funeral of one of those killed, State Senator Clementa Pinckney, who was also pastor of the congregation. During his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden frequently referred to the shooting, saying a visit to Mother Emanuel had helped him heal in the aftermath of the death of his son, Beau.

Roof’s lawyers could ask the entire 4th Circuit to reconsider the panel’s decision. If his direct appeal failed, Roof could file what is known as a 2255 appeal, or a request for the trial court to review the constitutionality of his conviction and sentence. He could also go to the United States Supreme Court or seek a presidential pardon.

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