Dylann Roof appeals church shooting case to SCOTUS, attorneys raise issue of ‘mental health’

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Attorneys for convicted Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof have appealed their case to the U.S. Supreme Court in the hopes the court will determine how disagreements among counsel over mental illness-related evidence should be handled.

The issue of such evidence between capital defendants and their attorneys has been a major factor in the case of Roof, who was charged in the murders of nine members of a black South Carolina congregation in 2015.

Roof’s appellate team wrote in their petition that when a capital defendant who has been ruled competent to stand trial and his attorneys “disagree on whether to present mitigating evidence depicting him as mentally ill, who gets the final say?” Fox News reported.

They say justices’ consideration is “needed to resolve a deep divide among the lower courts over who — client or lawyer — gets to decide whether mitigation evidence will be introduced at a capital penalty hearing.”

After receiving a death sentence in 2017, Roof fired his attorneys and opted instead to represent himself. This move, his appellate lawyers say, relieves him of having to introduce evidence that might call into question his mental health even though it might be to his benefit if he wishes to avoid execution. They wrote in the filing that his decision also successfully prevented jurors from hearing evidence about his mental condition, “under the delusion” that “he would be rescued from prison by white-nationalists — but only, bizarrely, if he kept his mental-impairments out of the public record.”

The team argues in the petition that Roof made the decision to represent himself only “after the district court told him that counsel could introduce evidence depicting him as mentally ill over his objection,” Fox News reported.

They also contended that procedures in such cases have historically been inconsistent between the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and other jurisdictions, the latter where “the vast majority of state and federal courts hold otherwise, leaving this deeply personal choice to a defendant.”

They argued, “Had Roof been tried in any one of those majority jurisdictions, he would not have been forced to self-represent at his capital trial to block his own attorneys from presenting evidence he abhorred.”

All of the judges from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers South Carolina, recused themselves from hearing Roof’s case. One of the judges, Jay Richardson, had in fact prosecuted Roof’s case as an assistant U.S. attorney in 2017 when Roof became the first person in the U.S. sentenced to death for a federal hate crime.

According to court documents, FBI investigators claim to have heard the rumblings of two neo-Nazi group members who they say plan to break Roof from his incarceration at a maximum-security prison in Terre Haute, Indiana. Authorities say they found plans that detail the number of guards at the prison and possible shootout scenarios.

If unsuccessful in his direct appeal, Roof could file what is called a 2255 appeal, which is a request that the trial court review the constitutionality of his conviction and sentence. He could also, as a last resort, seek a presidential pardon; something he is unlikely to receive no matter who’s in office.


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