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January 2, 2017

Understanding why Dylann Roof will not present penalty phase evidence at his capital trial

Last week in this post I noted the news that Dylann Roof, at a hearing before the penalty phase of his capital trial, told the district judge that "he doesn't plan to call any witnesses or present evidence to ask a jury to spare his life." This new New York Times article, headlined, "Dylann Roof Himself Rejects Best Defense Against Execution," provides some explanatory backstory.  Here is how the lengthy piece begins:

Twenty-two pages into the hand-scribbled journal found in Dylann S. Roof’s car — after the assertions of black inferiority, the lamentations over white powerlessness, the longing for a race war — comes an incongruous declaration.

“I want state that I am morally opposed to psychology,” wrote the young white supremacist who would murder nine black worshipers at Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., in June 2015. “It is a Jewish invention, and does nothing but invent diseases and tell people they have problems when they dont.”

Mr. Roof, who plans to represent himself when the penalty phase of his federal capital trial begins on Tuesday, apparently is devoted enough to that proposition (or delusion, as some maintain) to stake his life on it. Although a defense based on his psychological capacity might be his best opportunity to avoid execution, he seems steadfastly committed to preventing any public examination of his mental state or background.

“I will not be calling mental health experts or presenting mental health evidence,” he wrote to Judge Richard M. Gergel of Federal District Court on Dec. 16, a day after a jury took only two hours to find him guilty of 33 counts, including hate crimes resulting in death, obstruction of religion and firearms violations. At a hearing on Wednesday, Mr. Roof told the judge that he planned to make an opening statement but not call witnesses or present evidence on his behalf.

The testimony presented by prosecutors during the guilt phase of Mr. Roof’s trial detailed with gruesome precision how he had plotted and executed the massacre during a Wednesday night Bible study in the church’s fellowship hall. It was less satisfying in revealing why he had done it. With his choice to sideline his legal team and represent himself, the second phase — when the same jury of nine whites and three blacks will decide whether to sentence him to death or to life in prison — may prove little different.

Death penalty experts said it was exceedingly rare for capital defendants to represent themselves after allowing lawyers to handle the initial part of a case. Mr. Roof, who also faces a death penalty trial in state court, has not publicly explained his reasoning. But legal filings strongly suggest a split with his court-appointed defenders about whether to argue that his rampage resulted from mental illness.

January 2, 2017 at 11:56 AM | Permalink


Regarding "why" he did it, both sides repeatedly have a reason not to tell the whole story & along with other things (e.g., evidence excluded for legal reasons), the "full" story often isn't shown. But, the system in place ideally provides as much of it as reasonably possible. Now, we are likely to get somewhat less since the state doesn't want to tell part of the story and/or rather focus on aggravating parts while Roof is loathe to as well. Still, since even some things that might be mitigating can be spun as aggravating, much of the story very well might come out.

Plus, even if he doesn't call mental health experts, the judge/jury here is likely to factor in some assumptions about his mental state. The matter already was partially covered in his competency hearing. Speaking personally, I myself would be likely to determine from his actions here and how he states his case in the penalty phrase that he was in some fashion unhinged. An alleged Jewish influenced expert not necessary there.

Posted by: Joe | Jan 2, 2017 1:57:13 PM

Unable to find "upset," "unhinged," and "racist," as validated mental illness conditions. Roof has more honesty and moral integrity than his lawyers. If allowed, the lawyers would be trying to fool the court and the jury.

If an evaluation were to reveal a serious mental illness, such as paranoid schizophrenia, the latter would make Roof more dangerous than a paid assassin. It should be considered to be an aggravating factor, and should fast track the death penalty.

We are also going to be subjected to a non-probative, inflammatory, long, and gruesome review of the details of the crime scene and of the effects of his rampage murders on loved ones. The judge is responsible for these decisions.

The victims were multiple high achieving, prominent, well to do citizens. If the jury or judge decides on life in prison, it would prove the point. The lives of black murder victims are devalued, more by the legal system, than by a mass murderer. I would support black rioting if that happens because the decision against the death penalty would be outrageous. Instead of trashing their own neighborhoods, rioters should trash the court.

Posted by: David Behar | Jan 2, 2017 3:16:50 PM

He may not be wacko. He needs to be wacked off though. Death by throwing him off a Roof with Bob Dylan singing the song: Bye, Bye, Miz American Pie.

Posted by: Liberty1st | Jan 3, 2017 11:57:17 PM

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