On Wednesday Aug. 25, a federal appeals court upheld the conviction of a confessed white supremacist for the 2015 murders of nine unsuspecting African Americans as they prayed at a Black church in South Carolina. The three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia unanimously affirmed Dylan Roof’s, 27, conviction and death-sentence in the racist massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. They rejected the defense’s arguments that their client should’ve been ruled incompetent to stand trial.
“[He] murdered African Americans at their church, during their Bible-study and worship. They had welcomed him. He slaughtered them. He did so with the express intent of terrorizing not just his immediate victims at the historically important Mother Emanuel Church, but as many similar people as would hear of the mass murder,” the panel wrote in their ruling.
They continued: “No cold record or careful parsing of statutes and precedents can capture the full horror of what Roof did. His crimes qualify him for the harshest penalty that a just society can impose.”
After pleading guilty in a federal court, Roof received nine consecutive life sentences in 2017, making him the first person in U.S. history sentenced to death for a federal hate crime.
During appeals, his attorney claimed he wasn’t qualified to represent himself during sentencing, pointing out that his plans were “under the delusion” and that he believed “his sentence didn’t matter because white nationalists would free him from prison after an impending race war,” according to court filings.
The Rev. Kylon Middleton, a close friend of Mother Emanuel Pastor Clementa Pinckney, stated: “We just want whatever the consequence or the justice that had been delivered based on the court’s ruling to be final, period.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams, also a lead prosecutor in the case, said, “Our office is grateful for the decision of the court, a decision that ensures, as the Court stated, that ‘the harshest penalty a just society can impose’ is indeed imposed.”
Defense attorneys also argued he shouldn’t have represented himself because he was suffering from anxiety, autism, depression and schizophrenia. They added that Roof didn’t take his conviction seriously.
Earlier this year, Judge Kent A. Jordan repeatedly pressed the defense lawyers and noted that “being mentally ill” or being “a person who is full of hate” is not the same as being incompetent. “Is every neo-Nazi incompetent to stand trial?” he asked. “It sounds like that’s what you are saying.”
Prosecutors portrayed Roof as a “calm, confident, callous man” who showed no signs that mental illness had anything to do with his crime.
They claimed that Roof’s unwillingness to cooperate with his own legal team was rooted in “a deep-seated racial prejudice,” rather than mental illness. They revealed he purchased a .45-caliber Glock pistol and 88 rounds, representing a numerical symbol for “Heil Hitler,” according to prosecutors.