A federal appeals court upheld Dylann Roof’s conviction and death sentence on Wednesday for the racist murders of nine members of a black South Carolina congregation in 2015, saying the legal record cannot even capture the “Full of horror” of what he did.
A unanimous panel of three judges from the 4th United States Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, rejected arguments that Mr. Roof should have been declared incompetent to stand trial in the Mother Emanuel Church shooting AME in Charleston, SC
Convicted church gunman Dylann Roof seeks pardon in court
In 2017, Mr. Roof became the first person in the United States to be sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. Authorities said Mr. Roof opened fire during the closing prayer of a Bible study at the church, raining dozens of bullets on those gathered. He was 21 at the time.
In his appeal, attorneys for Mr. Roof argued that he was wrongly allowed to represent himself at sentencing, a critical phase of his trial. Mr Roof succeeded in preventing jurors from hearing any evidence of his sanity, “under the illusion,” his lawyers argued, that “he would be rescued from prison by white nationalists – but only, oddly, if he kept his mental disabilities out of public record. “
Mr Roof’s lawyers have said his convictions and death sentence should be overturned or his case should be referred to court for a “proper jurisdictional assessment”.
The 4th Circuit concluded that the trial judge had not erred in finding that Mr. Roof was qualified to stand trial and issued a scathing reprimand for Mr. Roof’s crimes.
“Dylann Roof murdered African Americans in their church, during their Bible study and worship. They had welcomed him. He slaughtered them. He did so with the express intention of terrorizing not only his immediate victims in the historically significant Mother Emanuel Church, but as many similar people who would hear of the mass murder, ”the panel wrote in its ruling.
“No cold recording or careful analysis of laws and precedents can capture the full horror of what Roof did. His crimes qualify him for the harshest sentence a just society can impose, ”the judges wrote.
One of Mr. Roof’s attorneys, Margaret Alice-Anne Farrand, deputy federal counsel, declined to comment on the decision. Mr. Roof’s other attorneys did not immediately respond to email requests for comment.
Reverend Kylon Middleton, a close friend of Pastor Mother Emanuel Clementa Pinckney, a state senator who was killed in the massacre, said Mr. Roof’s appeal reopened some of the psychological wounds felt by relatives of the victims and survivors. Mr. Middleton said he was personally opposed to the death penalty, but accepted it as the punishment Mr. Roof received.
“We just want that whatever the consequence or whatever justice has been done on the basis of the court’s decision to be final, period,” Middleton said.
All the judges of the 4th US Court of Appeals, which covers South Carolina, recused themselves from hearing Mr. Roof’s appeal; one of their own, Judge Jay Richardson, pursued Mr. Roof’s case as deputy US attorney. The panel that heard the arguments in May and delivered its decision on Wednesday was made up of judges from several other appeal circuits.
Following his federal trial, Mr. Roof was sentenced to nine consecutive life sentences after pleading guilty in 2017 to murder charges, leaving him to await execution in federal prison and sparing his victims and their families. the burden of a second trial.
Last month, however, U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland declared a moratorium and halted all federal executions while the Department of Justice reviewed its enforcement policies and procedures. The review comes after a historic string of death sentences at the end of the Trump administration, which carried out 13 executions in six months. A federal lawsuit has also been filed over execution protocols – including the risk of pain and suffering associated with the use of pentobarbital, the drug used for lethal injection.
US President Joe Biden, as a candidate, has said he will work to end federal executions. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in March he continued to have “serious concerns” about this.
Mr. Biden has ties to the case. As vice president, Mr Biden attended the funeral of one of those killed, Clementa Pinckney, who was also pastor of the congregation. During his 2020 presidential campaign, Mr Biden frequently referred to the shooting, saying a visit to Mother Emanuel had helped him heal in the aftermath of the death of his son, Beau.
Mr. Roof’s lawyers could ask the entire 4th Circuit to reconsider the panel’s decision. If his direct appeal failed, Mr. Roof could file what is known as a 2255 appeal, or a request that the trial court review the constitutionality of his conviction and sentence. He could also go to the United States Supreme Court or seek a presidential pardon.
Our Morning Update and Evening Update bulletins are written by The Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. register today.