“When Dylann Roof represented himself at his capital trial, he was a 22-year-old, ninth-grade dropout diagnosed with schizophrenia-spectrum disorder, autism, anxiety, and depression, who believed his sentence didn’t matter because white nationalists would free him from prison after an impending race war,” the filing says.
Oral arguments, which began Tuesday morning in federal court in Richmond, Virginia, kicked off with the defense’s case that the trial court ignored numerous experts and failed to read and consider detailed reports regarding Roof’s competency to stand trial. Roof masked his mental illness because he felt it might interfere with his rescue from prison, a defense attorney further claimed.
It lays out a litany of arguments related to Roof’s alleged incompetency to stand trial and inability to represent himself. It challenges the validity of both the guilty verdict and death sentence, in part, by claiming the trial court ignored evidence of Roof’s incompetency, denied him a “full and fair competency hearing” and forced him to stand trial.
It goes on to say, “Indeed, the federal trial shouldn’t have happened at all. South Carolina swiftly brought capital charges for Roof’s wholly-intrastate crime. Months later, federal prosecutors intervened, using novel theories of jurisdiction to seek their own death sentence — a move unwelcomed by the State, who viewed the federal prosecution as unnecessary and disruptive.”
Two US Justice Department attorneys intend to argue that there was nothing inappropriate about the trial court’s determination that Roof was competent to stand trial. Other elements of the original trial — including the court’s decision to let Roof represent himself — were sound as well, they will argue.
“No error occurred at the penalty phase. The district court did not improperly preclude Roof from introducing mitigating evidence or admit improper aggravating evidence that characterized Roof or the parishioners in a prejudicial way, and any error was harmless. The death penalty was not plainly erroneous based on Roof’s age or mental condition,” the Justice Department brief says. “Finally, Roof’s convictions rest on sound legal and constitutional grounds.”
“Anything you heard from my lawyers in the last phase, I ask you to forget it,” he said.
“I would like to make it crystal clear. I do not regret what I did,” Roof wrote. “I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.”
CNN’s Eric Levenson and Tina Burnside contributed to this report.