Crime & Courts

Racist killer Dylann Roof hoped to be governor of white supremacist SC

Dylann Roof confesses to Charleston shooting, explains motive

During the Roof trial, authorities released a video showing Dylann Roof confessing to the shooting death of nine people at a Charleston church last year. This is the first time since testimony in the death penalty trial, the jury got to hear his v
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During the Roof trial, authorities released a video showing Dylann Roof confessing to the shooting death of nine people at a Charleston church last year. This is the first time since testimony in the death penalty trial, the jury got to hear his v

Charleston racist killer Dylann Roof didn’t want his lawyers in his federal trial to argue he was mentally ill because he wanted to be revered in a future white-supremacist America.

Read one of the Roof letters

“He hoped that one day there would be a white-nationalist revolution and that if he was diagnosed as mentally ill or defective, his acts in furtherance of that desired revolution would be discredited, and his reputation as a ‘perfect specimen’ would be destroyed,” wrote U.S. Judge Richard Gergel in a previously secret Nov. 25 court document made public Tuesday. Gergel was citing a court-appointed psychiatrist in his ruling that Roof was fit to stand trial.

Roof, too, wanted to someday be “made governor of South Carolina,” according to another document, this one from the defense team, also made public Tuesday. Roof has a “delusional belief system that he will never be executed because white supremacists will break him out of prison in the future,” according to the document.

The records were two of dozens made public Tuesday for the first time by Gergel, a day after Roof pleaded guilty in state court and received nine life sentences for his nine victims.

The documents shed light on angry, behind-the-scenes battles between Roof and his defense lawyers before and during Roof’s federal death penalty trial last winter. They also highlight an irony: Roof deliberately “sabotaged” efforts by nationally known capital punishment lawyers who were working to save his life.

In January, a federal jury gave Roof, 23, a self-avowed white supremacist from the Columbia area, the death penalty for the 2015 hate crime killings of the African-Americans at a historic downtown Charleston church. Roof killed them during a Wednesday night Bible study session in hopes of starting a race war.

In his now-public Nov. 25 order, Gergel wrote that Roof had “described himself as a political prisoner, similar to a Muslim extremist or Jihadist.” He readlily acknowledged his crimes were racist acts undertaken for the purpose of “waking up white people ... shooting up a black church was the most outrageous thing he could do.”

Another document said Roof believed any legal defense of a mental illness or defect “discredits the reason why I did the crime.”

Gergel’s order found Roof competent to stand trial and cleared the way for Roof’s death penalty trial to begin in December.

The documents unsealed by Gergel on Tuesday reveal in extraordinary detail an up-to-now largely hidden clash of wills between Roof and his defense team, who wanted to portray him as an obsessive, delusional person. The defense lawyers were hoping if they could show Roof killed because he was severely mentally ill, the jury might spare his life.

The behind-the-scenes struggle between Roof and his lawyers – led by David Bruck, one of the nation’s foremost anti-death penalty lawyers – began in late October or early November, just as Roof’s death penalty trial was about to begin.

In early November, Roof discovered that Bruck was planning to introduce evidence showing what Bruck wanted to describe as Roof’s crazed racist delusions – definitely not radical political beliefs – caused him to kill nine African-American churchgoers.

Roof was so outraged he wrote a letter to federal prosecutors, accusing Bruck and his team of betraying him.

“I can assure you that this is the sneakiest group of people I have ever met, and words cant (sic) express how slick they are in their lies,” Roof said in a three-page handwritten letter sent in early November to federal prosecutors.

Roof continued, “Throughout my case they have used scare tactics, threats, manipulation and outright lies in order to further their own, not my, agenda.”

As an example of his lawyers’ deception, Roof said, “I was lied to repeatedly in order to get me to speak to mental health experts,” Roof wrote. “I was told that I needed to talk to them in order to get medicine for a thyroid condition.”

In the end, Gergel ruled both that Roof was competent to stand trial and that he had the right to represent himself in its death penalty phase, even if that meant mental illness evidence was kept from jurors.

Bruck said by email Tuesday that he had no comment on Roof’s statements. Over the years, Bruck has won numerous death penalty trials and appeals, getting death sentences reduced to life in many cases from state courts to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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