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Court upholds death sentence for Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof

The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the death sentence for Dylann Roof in the...
The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the death sentence for Dylann Roof in the 2015 shooting that killed nine members of a Charleston church.
Published: Aug. 25, 2021 at 12:07 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 25, 2021 at 1:21 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WCSC) - The U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the death sentence for Dylann Roof in the 2015 shooting that killed nine members of a Charleston church.

“No cold record or careful parsing of statutes and precedents can capture the full horror of what Roof did,” the court’s ruling states. “His crimes qualify him for the harshest penalty that a just society can impose.”

The ruling also stated that when he was arrested, “he frankly confessed, with barely a hint of remorse.”

“Dylann Roof murdered African Americans at their church, during their Bible-study and worship,” the court’s decision states. “They had welcomed him. He slaughtered them. He did so with the express intent of terrorizing not just his immediate victims at the historically important Mother Emanuel Church, but as many similar people as would hear of the mass murder. He used the internet to plan his attack and, using his crimes as a catalyst, intended to foment racial division and strife across America. He wanted the widest possible publicity for his atrocities, and, to that end, he purposefully left one person alive in the church “to tell the story.”

Roof and his attorneys attempted to appeal the death sentence in May of this year.

Roof’s attorneys argued over a range of topics including his competency. Roof underwent two competency hearings. The first took place in 2016 before his trial began. The second took place to determine whether he could represent himself during sentencing after he moved to fire his attorney before the penalty phase.

His attorneys argued Tuesday the lower court should never have allowed Roof to represent himself citing his mental illness.

“[He] didn’t want to represent himself at his capital trial, and never should have been forced to,” appellate attorney Alexandra Yates said during arguments in May. “He waived counsel for one reason and one reason alone and that was to prevent his attorneys from presenting mental health evidence that he thought would ruin his reputation and undermine the reasons for committing his crime.”

Court documents state Roof stood trial while mentally ill under the “delusion he would be rescued from prison by white-nationalists.” But his attorneys said he believed that rescue would only happen if he kept quiet about his mental state. They argued while there were witnesses ready to testify to Roof’s mental state, Roof never called on them.

Such testimony, they argued, could have stopped a federal jury from sentencing him to death.

The prosecution, meanwhile, argued Roof had the opportunity to present the evidence but did not do so.

“This is a problem that certainly could have been solved at the time with appropriate attention from Roof or from his standby counsel,” Department of Justice attorney Ann O’Connell Adams said during the appeal. “I don’t think there’s any chance the jury would have returned a different verdict if they found the government could deal with Roof as he continued to misbehave in prison.”

Charleston church shooting left pastor, 8 church members dead

Prosecutors said Roof, who is white, was welcomed into the historically Black church for a Bible study on the evening of June 17, 2015. They say he opened fire during the final prayer.

The church’s pastor, State Sen. and the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and eight parishioners died in the shooting.

Roof became the first person in the United States sentenced to death for a federal hate crime in connection with the June 17, 2015 shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church.

Roof filed his appeal in 2017.

In addition to Pinckney, the shooting claimed the lives of Mother Emanuel parishioners Cynthia Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Daniel Simmons, the Rev. Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson.

Copyright 2021 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this story. All rights reserved.