Dylann Roof is asking an appeals court on Tuesday to overturn his conviction and death sentence for killing nine Black parishioners as they prayed during Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. in 2015, reports the Washington Post. Roof was the first person sentenced to death for a federal hate crime for committing the massacre. Roof’s lawyers say the trial judge was wrong to find Roof competent to stand trial and to represent himself. The judge also should not have permitted certain emotional testimony from witnesses, including one who said Roof belonged in the “pit of hell,” Roof’s lawyers argue.
Roof’s lawyers told the court in filings that Roof undermined his own defense by blocking the presentation of evidence from mental health experts who diagnosed him with symptoms of a psychotic disorder, anxiety, depression and autism. All of the judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit have recused themselves from reviewing Roof’s case on Tuesday, which is likely to be the start of a lengthy appeals process. The notice from the court did not state a reason, but it is presumably because the lead federal prosecutor in Roof’s trial, Julius N. Richardson, is now a judge on the court. Roof’s death sentence could pose a challenge for the Biden administration. President Biden is opposed to capital punishment and as a candidate said he would seek to end federal executions.