RICHMOND, Va. — A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld the conviction and death sentence handed down to Dylann Roof, the man who killed nine people in 2015 during a Bible-study gathering at a historic Black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
In a 149-page ruling, the three-judge panel rejected arguments from Roof claiming that the district court wrongfully found him competent to stand trial, that he shouldn’t have been allowed to represent himself in the trial’s penalty phase and that errors were made in the penalty and guilt phases of the trial.
“No cold record or careful parsing of statutes and precedents can capture the full horror of what Roof did,” the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said in the court’s opinion. “His crimes qualify him for the harshest penalty that a just society can impose.”
The judges added that they “reached that conclusion not as a product of emotion but through a thorough analytical process.”
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Roof killed nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, 2015, as they closed their eyes for a prayer. The group, which included three others who were injured, had welcomed him into their Bible study session 45 minutes earlier.
“Dylann Roof murdered African Americans at their church, during their Bible-study and worship. They had welcomed him. He slaughtered them,” the court’s opinion read.
“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. His used the internet to plan his attack and, using his crimes as a catalyst, intended to foment racial division and strife across America.”
In May, Roof’s attorney, Sapna Mirchandani, argued that her client suffered from long-standing mental illness which had been affirmed by experts.
“This is actually a medically defined term that multiple experts said applied to him,” Mirchandani said in court. “It wasn’t just a belief.”
In its ruling, the appeals court noted that a psychologist appointed to conduct a competency evaluation of Roof found that he showed no active symptoms of mental illness which would have significantly impacted his competency to stand trial.
“There is a lot of projection going on here,” Dr. James Ballenger testified, according to the court’s opinion, “(due to the) incomprehensibility of his racial views lead[ing] people to want to project mental illness on him.”
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Killed in the 2015 attack were Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Democratic state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons and Rev. Myra Thomson.
In 2017, Roof was convicted of 33 federal charges, including nine counts of racially motivated hate crimes resulting in death and nine counts of obstructing religion resulting in death, and sentenced to death. His sentence made him the first person to be ordered executed for a federal hate crime, according to The Associated Press.
Roof’s attorneys are expected to appeal Wednesday’s ruling to the Supreme Court, The Washington Post reported.
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