The young man responsible for killing nine people in the 2015 Charleston Church Massacre is appealing his case. Church shooter Dylann Roof was found guilty and ultimately sentenced to death in a trial that started in December 2016; he is the first person in the U.S. to receive a death sentence for a federal hate crime. Now, Roof’s lawyers claim he was unfit to represent himself during that trial.
Roof “believed his sentence didn’t matter because white nationalists would free him from prison after an impending race war,” according to a legal brief filed with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.
On Tuesday, January 28, 2020, a full three years after it was handed to him, Roof appealed the court’s 2017 decision. Roof, who was 22 years old at the time of the trial, claims he was suffering from schizophrenia and other psychological disorders. According to his appellate lawyers, Roof was diagnosed with “schizophrenia-spectrum disorder, autism, anxiety, and depression.” His lawyers are also arguing that the presiding judge over the trial, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel, should never have allowed Roof to represent himself in the first place.
The Charleston Church Shooter in Court
In June 2015, Roof walked into a Wednesday night prayer meeting at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof observed the meeting for about 45 minutes before opening fire and killing nine of the 13 people attending the meeting. The horrific act was driven by Roof’s racism. Roof told authorities his purpose in the shooting was to bring back segregation and potentially start a race war.
As ChurchLeaders reported in 2016, Roof claimed to come to his racist conclusions about black people through the Internet, and did research on black churches before deciding the historic Emanuel AME Church would be the target of his crime. Mother Emanuel is the oldest black church in the South.
During the trial in 2016, Roof’s attorney, David Bruck, did not offer any defense of his actions, stating everything the prosecutors were accusing Roof of was true. Although Bruck hinted at mental illness being a factor in Roof’s actions, the judge ruled this could not be used in his defense. Additionally, during his trial, Roof told jurors to disregard anything his legal team might have said about mental illness, claiming: “there’s nothing wrong with me psychologically.”
Also during this trial, families of the victims were given a chance to speak directly to Roof. Anthony Thompson, who lost his wife Myra in the massacre, told Roof he forgave him for murdering his wife.