Roof's Lawyers: Defense 'Breakdown' Merits Death Sentence Nix

Arguments begun Tuesday to overturn SC killer's conviction
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 25, 2021 9:40 AM CDT

(Newser) – Before white supremacist Dylann Roof was sentenced to death for killing nine Black parishioners at a church in Charleston, SC, he told jurors to "forget" what his lawyers had said about him being mentally ill. Now, the first person sentenced to death for a federal hate crime is asking a three-judge panel of the 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse his conviction and sentence because jurors didn't hear what he refused to tell them. In oral arguments beginning Tuesday, Roof's lawyers will claim evidence of their client's psychotic disorder, anxiety, depression, and autism should have prevented his death sentence and prevented him from serving as his own attorney, per the Washington Post. The judge had found Roof competent to stand trial and to act as his own lawyer during sentencing, finding his decisions stemmed from "a deep-seated racial prejudice," not mental illness.

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But lawyers say Roof believed he'd be rescued from prison by white nationalists following a race war "if he kept his mental impairments out of the public record," per the AP. Roof didn't plead for his life or explain his actions, resulting in "a complete breakdown" of any possible defense, his lawyers say. They'll also argue that the judge shouldn't have allowed testimony describing Roof as "evil" and belonging in a "pit of hell." But the government's lawyers say such testimony didn't improperly influence the verdict "given what the jurors heard and saw about the crime itself." The Post notes the federal sentence "could pose a challenge for the Biden administration," as the president, who attended the funeral of pastor and state senator Clementa Pinckney, has vowed to end federal executions. Roof was also handed nine consecutive life sentences in state court. (Read more Dylann Roof stories.)

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