FILE PHOTO: Dylann Roof is escorted into the court room at the Charleston County Judicial Center to enter his guilty plea on murder charges in state court for the 2015 shooting massacre at a historic black church, in Charleston, South Carolina, April 10, 2017. REUTERS/Grace Beahm/Pool
(Reuters) – Dylann Roof, a white supremacist who killed nine black churchgoers in a hate-fueled attack on a South Carolina church in 2015, has appealed his conviction and death sentence, with his lawyers arguing he was too mentally ill to have represented himself at trial.
“This Court should vacate Roof’s convictions and death sentence,” says his appeal, filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Tuesday.
After Roof represented himself at trial and presented no evidence, a jury found him guilty of 33 federal charges, including hate crimes resulting in death, for the mass shooting at the landmark Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in June 2015.
That same jury gave him the death penalty in January 2017 after deliberating for less than three hours.
Federal public defenders representing Roof said in a 321-page brief that when Roof represented himself, 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.”
His defense lawyers, at the time of his 2016 trial, told the court that in their decades of experience, “none had represented a defendant so disconnected from reality,” the appeal brief said.
Yet Roof was allowed to represent himself and offered no response to prosecutors’ arguments that he was a “calculated killer with no signs of mental illness.”
“Roof’s crime was tragic, but this Court can have no confidence in the jury’s verdict,” the filing said.
Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum