White Supremacist Dylann Roof Appeals Death Sentence for South Carolina Black Church Massacre

Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who was convicted of killing nine Black churchgoers in 2015, appealed his convictions and death sentence for the massacre on Wednesday.

In a legal brief filed with the 4th U.S. Circuit of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia, and obtained by the Associated Press, Roof’s lawyers stated that there were many errors made by U.S. Circuit Court Judge Richard Gergel and prosecutors, calling Roof’s sentence “tainted.”

In one argument, the lawyers said the judge should not have allowed Roof to represent himself during the penalty phase of his trial. The attorneys wrote in the brief that during the time of the penalty phase of Roof’s trial, he was a 22-year-old ninth-grade dropout “who believed his sentence didn’t matter because white nationalists would free him from prison after an impending race war,” according to the brief obtained by the AP.

The brief also stated that Roof has been diagnosed with “schizophrenia-spectrum disorder, autism, anxiety, and depression,” and that he had released his trial lawyers because he did not want to provide evidence to the jurors that he has mental illnesses. The trial lawyers reportedly told the judge that despite their experience “none had represented a defendant so disconnected from reality.”

“Instead, prosecutors told them Roof was a calculated killer with no signs of mental illness. Given no reason to do otherwise, jurors sentenced Roof to death,” the attorneys wrote, according to the AP. “Roof’s crime was tragic, but this Court can have no confidence in the jury’s verdict.”

The Charleston Church Shooting

  • On June 17, 2015, Roof walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, around 9 p.m., The New York Times reported. Roof was reportedly invited to join Bible study by pastor and state senator Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney. Roof, who was 21-years-old at the time, sat at the Bible study for 40 minutes with his head down before taking out a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun and shooting at churchgoers, killing Rev. Pinckney and eight others, according to The Times.

  • Following his arrest, a website created by Roof was discovered that showed him posing with Confederate flags and burning the American flag. His website also included a 2,500-word racist manifesto against Blacks, calling them inferior.

  • In December 2016, Roof was found guilty on all 33 counts of federal hate crimes, NPR reported. The charges included murder, attempted murder, obstruction of religious beliefs and damage to religious property.

  • Roof was given the death sentence in 2017, becoming the first person in U.S. history to be sentenced to death for a federal hate crime, according to the AP.

The Removal of Confederate Flags

The shooting put America’s focus on the Confederate flag and its symbolism. A few weeks after the shooting, activist Bree Newsome climbed the flagpole on the Capitol building in Columbia, South Carolina, to take down the Confederate flag, The Guardian previously reported. Newsome, who was 30 years old at the time, climbed the flagpole and removed the flag, despite police telling her to get down.

Almost a month after the shooting, former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley signed a bill to remove the Confederate flag from the state Capitol, NBC News reported. Other states, such as Alabama, followed suit. Nearly a year later, the U.S. Capitol took down state flags that featured the Confederate battle emblem, USA Today previously reported.

“This is the right thing to do,” then-Alabama governor Robert Bentley told AL.com about the removal of the Confederate flag on state Capitol grounds. “We are facing some major issues in this state regarding the budget and other matters that we need to deal with. This had the potential to become a major distraction as we go forward. I have taxes to raise, we have work to do. And it was my decision that the flag needed to come down."

There are seven states in the U.S. that have flags with Confederate symbols on them, according to a 2015 report from The Washington Post. As of 2019, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) counted 100 Confederate monuments and symbols that have been removed since the Charleston shooting. Despite this, there are still 1,747 Confederate monuments and other symbols still in existence in the U.S.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.