Crime & Courts

Dylann Roof threatened to kill his renowned death penalty lawyer, David Bruck

FILE - In this Thursday, April 30, 2015, file photo, defense attorney David Bruck arrives at federal court in Boston during the penalty phase in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. On Thursday, July 23, 2015, a federal judge appointed Bruck to represent Dylann Roof, who authorities have charged with the June 17 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, S.C.
FILE - In this Thursday, April 30, 2015, file photo, defense attorney David Bruck arrives at federal court in Boston during the penalty phase in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. On Thursday, July 23, 2015, a federal judge appointed Bruck to represent Dylann Roof, who authorities have charged with the June 17 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Church in Charleston, S.C. AP

In the middle of his death penalty trial, Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof threatened to kill his nationally-known capital punishment lawyer, David Bruck.

“The defendant informed Mr. Bruck that he hates him, and that if he gets out of jail he plans to come to Mr. Bruck’s house and kill him,” Bruck and two members of his legal team wrote in a declaration on Jan. 1, 2017.

 
Image of document containing death threat against David Bruck.

The lawyers gave their seven-page sworn declaration to U.S. Judge Richard Gergel, who kept it under seal until earlier this week, when he began unsealing records kept secret to avoid publicity that might influence Roof’s right to a fair trial.

Bruck, based at Washington & Lee Law School, is a nationally-known death penalty lawyer who spent much of his early career in South Carolina. He and fellow teams of anti-death penalty lawyers have won reversals of numerous death penalty cases in South Carolina and across the nation. Gergel appointed him specially for this case because, Gergel has said, he wanted the best lawyer available.

On Jan. 1, Roof, then 22, a self-avowed white supremacist from the Columbia area, was in the Charleston County jail and having periodic visits from his court-appointed lawyers, all highly experienced in complex capital punishment cases.

Two weeks earlier, a federal jury had found Roof guilty of the 2015 hate crime killings of nine African-Americans at a historic downtown Charleston church.

On Jan. 2, a Monday, Judge Gergel held a closed, daylong hearing to determine if Roof was mentally competent to represent himself during the then-upcoming death phase of his trial.

After the hearing, Gergel announced that Roof “remains competent to stand trial and self-represent." He also ruled that the Bruck and his legal team could sit at Roof’s defense table and advise him on legal points if Roof wished.

On Jan. 4, the death penalty phase of Roof’s trial began. And on Jan. 10, the same jury that had in December found Roof guilty of the execution-style killings at Mother Emanuel AME Church unanimously ruled that he should be executed.

Roof presented no witnesses during either phase of the trial and rejected his lawyers’ advice to let them present numerous witnesses and other evidence that would have shown that Roof was severely mentally ill, suffering from obsessive false delusions about African-Americans and the purported need to establish a new America based on white supremacy.

In their declaration given to Gergel, Bruck and two colleagues, attorneys Emily Paavola and Kimberly Stevens, gave numerous observations about how Roof related to reality:

▪  Roof believes that Judge Gergel liked him because “he smiled at him and how the Court’s affection for him will shift the ‘universal consciousness’ in the room in his favor and will impact how other people in court will feel about him.”

▪  Roof said he “does not believe he will be sentenced to death because ‘people aren’t that mean’ and the jurors will like him.”

▪ Roof said that even if he is sentenced to death, he won’t be executed because he is “too special. The defendant said that he can stop the execution by simply crying before they stick the needle in his arm.” (Roof’s lawyers told him that “never in this history of the American death penalty had an execution ever been stopped because the defendant was crying.”)

▪ Roof said he “did not want a young, attractive woman on his jury because this would increase his anxiety.”

▪  Roof didn’t like it when his lawyers objected to prosecution testimony that described Roof as “evil.” Roof “stated that he believed the more witnesses called him evil, the more the jurors would feel sorry for him and vote for life.”

▪ Before closing arguments in the trial’s first phase, Roof told lawyer Stevens that his sweater had been washed with too much detergent and told her, “You are trying to kill me.”

▪  After the trial’s closing arguments in the guilt phase, Roof was “angry at Mr. Bruck for giving a ‘bad’ closing argument.” He told Bruck he should have told the jury to search on the Internet for information about how dangerous black people were to white people.

▪  Roof rejected a defense witness, Father John Parker, an Orthodox priest, because Parker declined to promise that he wouldn’t tell the jury that Roof has mental illness issues.

Documents unsealed earlier this week showed that Roof believed that in the future, white supremacists would take over America and he would be discredited if he allowed any evidence to come in his trial that showed he was mentally ill.

Bruck, who has declined comment about Roof’s behavior, could not be reached Wednesday afternoon.

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