Dylann Roof, the white supremacist who killed nine black people at a SC church in 2015, has appealed his conviction and death sentence, with lawyers arguing the mentally ill defendant never should have been allowed to represent himself at trial.
Lawyers for Roof are appealing the conviction and the death sentence handed down by a federal jury in 2017 to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
After Roof represented himself at trial and presented no evidence, a jury found him guilty of 33 federal charges, including hate crimes resulting in death, for the mass shooting at the landmark Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in June 2015.
The argument about Roof's mental stability came as his attorneys asked a federal appeals court to overturn his 2017 death penalty conviction for the 2015 massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church.
In a 321-page brief to the court, Roof's lawyers describe him as a "ninth-grade dropout diagnosed with schizophrenia-spectrum disorder, autism, anxiety, and depression".
His defense lawyers, at the time of his 2016 trial, told the court that in their decades of experience, "none had represented a defendant so disconnected from reality", the appeal brief said.
Roof had been cooperating with his trial lawyers for 16 months, but suddenly objected when he learned they planned to present him as "developmentally disabled or mentally ill".
"Roof's crime was tragic, but this Court can have no confidence in the jury's verdict", the filing said.
"I still feel like I had to do it", Roof said in his closing argument. They say Roof fired his own attorneys and chose to represent himself because he did not want that evidence of his mental illness to come out.
Roof asked jurors to forget anything they'd heard from his legal team about his mental state, declaring, "there's nothing wrong with me psychologically".
Prosecutors told the jury that Roof walked into the church and sat with the Bible study group for about 45 minutes, then opened fire during the final prayer, when everyone's eyes were closed. He was sentenced to nine consecutive life sentences and three consecutive 30-year sentences for those counts. They argue that state officials "viewed the federal prosecution as unnecessary and disruptive". Given no reason to do otherwise, jurors sentenced Roof to death.
Roof's appellate lawyers include: Amy Karlin, interim Federal Public Defender for the Central District of California; James Wyda, Federal Public Defender for Maryland; Alexandra Yates, Deputy Federal Public Defender for the Central District of California; and Sapna Mirchandani, Assistant Federal Public Defender for Maryland.
The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the claims made in Roof's appeal. A response brief from the DOJ is due on February 18. Roof had posed with the flag in photos.