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Charleston church shooter’s attorneys: Racist delusion showed incapacity

Dylann Roof enters a Charleston County Judicial Center courtroom in April 2017. Roof was...
Dylann Roof enters a Charleston County Judicial Center courtroom in April 2017. Roof was convicted in the June 17, 2015, killing of nine parishioners at Mother Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston.(Pool/File)
Updated: May. 25, 2021 at 5:35 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WCSC/WWBT/AP) - Attorneys for the man on federal death row for fatally shooting nine Black parishioners of a downtown Charleston church argue his “delusional belief” should have prevented him from representing himself at trial.

Attorneys for Dylann Roof are fighting to overturn the his conviction and death sentence in the 2015 massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church.

No one was physically present inside the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for Tuesday’s hearing. The arguments took place remotely over three hours.

READ MORE: Dylann Roof’s appeal process could take years

Roof’s attorneys argued over a range of topics including his competency. Roof underwent two competency hearings. The first took place in 2016 before his trial began. The second took place to determine whether he could represent himself during sentencing after he moved to fire his attorney before the penalty phase.

His attorneys argued Tuesday the lower court should never have allowed Roof to represent himself citing his mental illness.

“[He] didn’t want to represent himself at his capital trial, and never should have been forced to,” appellate attorney Alexandra Yates said. “He waived counsel for one reason and one reason alone and that was to prevent his attorneys from presenting mental health evidence that he thought would ruin his reputation and undermine the reasons for committing his crime.”

Court documents state Roof stood trial while mentally ill under the “delusion he would be rescued from prison by white-nationalists.” But his attorneys said he believed that rescue would only happen if he kept quiet about his mental state. They argued while there were witnesses ready to testify to Roof’s mental state, Roof never called on them.

Such testimony, they say, could have stopped a federal jury from sentencing him to death.

The prosecution, meanwhile, argued Roof had the opportunity to present the evidence but did not do so.

“This is a problem that certainly could have been solved at the time with appropriate attention from Roof or from his standby counsel,” Department of Justice attorney Ann O’Connell Adams said. “I don’t think there’s any chance the jury would have returned a different verdict if they found the government could deal with Roof as he continued to misbehave in prison.”

Oral arguments began Tuesday at 10 a.m. and the court adjourned at 1:09 p.m.

Authorities said Roof opened fire during the closing prayer of a Bible study at the church on the night of June 17, 2015.

Roof was convicted in the 2015 massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church.

In 2017, Roof became the first person in the United States to be sentenced to death for a federal hate crime.

WATCH: Remembering the Emanuel 9

SPECIAL SECTION: The Emanuel 9

Among the victims was the church’s pastor, State Sen. and the Rev. Clementa Pinckney.

Roof was 21 years old at the time of the killings.

The case is now in the hands of a three-judge panel.

It is not clear when they will make a decision on whether to overturn the conviction or the sentence.

Copyright 2021 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this story. All rights reserved.