Lawyers for Dylann Roof, the avowed white supremacist convicted of killing nine black parishioners in a South Carolina church in 2015, want his death sentence overturned.
In a 321-page motion filed Tuesday with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals, Roof’s lawyers appealed his death sentence, arguing that Roof was mentally unstable when he represented himself during his federal trial.
According to CNN, Roof’s lawyers wrote that the federal trial court “clearly erred in finding Roof competent to stand trial and sentencing, and it violated his due process rights by holding inadequate competency hearings.
“When Dylann Roof represented himself at his capital trial, 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,” read the filing.
Roof represented himself during the penalty phase of his 2017 trial, where he faced federal murder and hate crime charges. He asked jurors at the time to dismiss his attorney’s previous arguments that he had mental health issues.
“There’s nothing wrong with me physically,” Roof told jurors. “Anything you heard from my lawyers in the last phase, I ask you to forget it.”
Roof’s appellate lawyers say U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel should never have allowed Roof to represent himself. In their appeal, they cited statements from Roof’s trial attorneys claiming they had never represented a client “so disconnected from reality.”
They said Roof repeatedly prevented his lawyers from presenting evidence of his poor mental health to the jury—information they believe could have spared Roof’s life.
As his prison journals show, Roof was unrepentant through the duration of the trial. Roof carefully chose Mother Emanuel AME church, one of the oldest black churches in the South, as the target for his massacre, which he hoped would start a race war. As NBC News reports, the night of the killings, he sat with the parishioners’ Bible study group for about 45 minutes. As the attendees closed their eyes for the final prayer, he began shooting.
“I would like to make it crystal clear. I do not regret what I did,” Roof wrote in his journal during the trial. “I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.”
The white supremacist was sentenced to death in that capital murder trial before pleading guilty later that year to state murder and attempted murder charges. A jury sentenced him to nine consecutive life sentences, with an additional three consecutive 30-year sentences, for his crimes.
After his conviction on federal charges, Roof pleaded guilty in April 2017 to state murder and attempted murder charges in the killings. He was sentenced to nine consecutive life sentences and three consecutive 30-year sentences for those counts.