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Federal Appeals Court Upholds Death Sentence for Charleston Mass Shooter

A three-judge panel on the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on Wednesday unanimously upheld the death penalty in the case of Dylann Roof, the gunman who massacred nine Black worshipers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015.

Dylann Roof (R), the 21-year-old man charged with murdering nine worshippers at a historic black church in Charleston last month, is helped to his chair by chief public defender Ashley Pennington during a hearing at the Judicial Center in Charleston, South Carolina July 16, 2015. REUTERS/Randall Hill

Roof, 27, was convicted of 33 counts of capital murder and hate crimes charges in 2016 and was sentenced to death. His attorneys argued on appeal that he should not have been permitted to represent himself and that prosecutorial errors improperly skewed the jury.

“Though Roof’s mental state was the subject of two competency hearings, and five experts found him delusional—findings swiftly dismissed by the court, in its rush to move the case along—jurors never heard any of that evidence,” Roof’s legal team told the appeals court last year. “Instead, prosecutors told them Roof was a calculated killer with no signs of mental illness. Given no reason to do otherwise, jurors sentenced Roof to death. Roof’s crime was tragic, but this Court can have no confidence in the jury’s verdict.”

But the judges vociferously disagreed, noting that Roof had participated in multiple competency hearings and was found to be fit to stand trial.

“Roof now argues, through counsel, that the district court incorrectly found him competent to stand trial. The government counters that the district court’s finding was not clearly erroneous and that any discrepancies between expert opinions do not warrant reversal. We agree with the government and find no clear error in the district court’s competency determination,” they wrote in their 149-page decision.

Dylann Roof murdered African Americans at their church, during their Bible-study and worship. 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,” the judges declared.

“Roof has failed to demonstrate inconsistencies that leave us ‘with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed,'” the jurists said.

The judges also doused Roof’s claim that he was constitutionally incapable of property acting in his own defense.

“None of his contentions, constitutionally based or otherwise, has persuasive force,” they said.

“Roof next argues that the district court should have denied his motion to dismiss counsel and proceed pro se because he did not have a Sixth Amendment right to represent himself during the penalty phase of his trial. Again, we disagree. He was indeed entitled to represent himself at the penalty phase,” the judges continued. “We hold that the district court did not err by allowing Roof to represent himself at the penalty phase of his trial.”

They reasserted that Roof knew what he was doing, understood the potential consequences, and received just punishment under the law.

“No cold record or careful parsing of statutes and precedents can capture the full horror of what Roof did. His crimes qualify him for the harshest penalty that a just society can impose. We have reached that conclusion not as a product of emotion but through a thorough analytical process, which we have endeavored to detail here. In this, we have followed the example of the trial judge, who managed this difficult case with skill and compassion for all concerned, including Roof himself,” the three judges concluded. “For the reasons given, we will affirm.”

Read the full ruling here.



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