(Reuters) – Lawyers for Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who killed nine Black people at a South Carolina church in 2015, argued on Tuesday in court to overturn his conviction and sentence because he was not competent to stand trial and represent himself.
Attorneys for Roof pressed their case during an appeals court hearing on Tuesday, squaring off with U.S. government lawyers trying to uphold his conviction on 33 federal charges, including hate crimes, and subsequent death sentence.
Federal public defenders representing Roof launched the appeal in early 2020. They argued that Roof suffered from schizophrenia spectrum disorder and other mental problems and “believed his sentence didn’t matter because white nationalists would free him from prison after an impending race war.”
Ann O’Connell Adams, a U.S. Justice Department lawyer, told a panel of three judges that Roof did not act irrationally in representing himself and had shown that he understood the risk that he could face the death penalty if found guilty.
In December 2016, a jury found Roof guilty of 33 federal charges for the mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in June 2015. The same jury sentenced him to death in January 2017.
Roof dismissed his defense attorneys just before trial and represented himself during jury selection. At the last minute he reinstated his lawyers for the guilt phase but represented himself again for the penalty phase.
(reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Bill Berkrot)