Convicted murderer and Neo-Nazi Dylann Roof will remain on death row after the Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal. It’s been seven years since Roof slaughtered nine innocent people during Bible study at the predominantly black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015 in a racially motivated domestic terrorist attack reminiscent of darker times in America’s not-so-distant past.
Roof escaped the death penalty in his state trial, pleading guilty “in exchange for a life sentence and no chance of appeal,” Law & Crime reported, but he was sentenced to death by a federal jury.
“A federal jury in South Carolina found Roof guilty of all 33 of the crimes charged against him later the following year, sentencing him to death.”
Efforts by federal defense attorneys to argue against the death penalty, claiming their client is both psychotic and on the autism spectrum, were shot down by Roof, who stood by his racist motivations. In an interview with NPR’s Melissa Block, New York Times reporter, Frances Robles, told the host, “He specifically said that he wanted to hurt people and that he wanted to start a race war.”
Roof’s attorneys filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court, questioning a defendant’s right to decline mitigating evidence against his lawyer’s advice. “When a competent capital defendant and his counsel disagree on whether to present mitigating evidence depicting him as mentally ill, who gets the final say?” Roof’s attorneys wrote.
Roof waived counsel to prevent a penalty-phase mental-health defense and defended himself for a majority of the capital jury selection.
“Shortly before trial, upon learning that his court-appointed counsel planned to present penalty-phase evidence depicting him as autistic and psychotic, Roof stopped cooperating with them and sought the court’s assistance. Roof explained that he hoped to avoid a death sentence, but cared more about not being labeled mentally ill, which he considered a fate worse than death. In Roof’s view, he was not autistic or psychotic, and an admission otherwise would discredit the political motivations for his act and subject him to possible harm,” Roof’s petition stated.
“Roof asked the court if he could instruct his attorneys to not present a mental-health defense, but the judge ruled that counsel alone had the authority to select mitigation evidence. Left with no other option for preventing jurors from being told that he was mentally ill, Roof reluctantly moved to discharge his attorneys and represent himself. The court found Roof competent to stand trial and self-represent and granted his motion.”
Robles reported that friends of Roof were reportedly “shocked” by his rhetoric and actions that seemed to come out of nowhere.
“Then, one day, started talking about his desire for starting a race war, the need for whites and blacks to be segregated, and that he had plans to do something big, that he wanted to hurt lots of people, and he had the gun to do it,” Robles told NPR.