COLUMBIA, S.C. — His attorneys argue the “delusional belief” of the man on federal death row for the racist slayings of nine members of a Black South Carolina congregation should have meant he couldn't represent himself at trial.
Dylann Roof is on federal death row for the 2015 slayings of nine people at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. In 2017, Roof became the first person in the U.S. sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. Authorities have said Roof opened fire during the closing prayer of a 2015 Bible study session at Charleston's Mother Emanuel AME Church
Attorneys for Roof told an appeals court Tuesday that Roof's theory that he’d be saved by white nationalists - but only if he kept mental health evidence out of his defense - should have shown his trial judge he wasn’t competent.
Roof is a white supremacist who wrote repeatedly about his beliefs before the killings and afterward in both jail and prison.
But the federal government countered by saying Roof was properly found competent and should stay on death row. During his federal trial, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel held two competency hearings for Roof: one before the start of his trial, and one before its sentencing phase, to determine if Roof could act as his own attorney for that portion of the trial.
Following his federal trial, Roof was given nine consecutive life sentences after pleading guilty in 2017 to state murder charges, leaving him to await execution in a federal prison and sparing his victims and their families the burden of a second trial.
The oral arguments Tuesday were held before a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, Virginia.