Dylann Roof's Appeal Denied After South Carolina Judges Recuse Themselves From Case

A federal court will not hear Dylann Roof's case after declining his request for a new appellate hearing to challenge his death sentence and conviction for the slayings of nine members of a Black South Carolina congregation in 2015, the Associated Press said.

On Monday, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in an order it was denying Roof's request for a new hearing and his petition that a court of substitute judges from other circuits be designated to consider his case. The court cited the U.S. Supreme Court precedent that "only judges of the Circuit who are in regular active service may make the determination to rehear a case en banc."

In Roof's appeal, his lawyers argued that he was wrongly allowed to represent himself during his sentencing and noted that he prevented jurors from hearing evidence about his mental health, the AP reported.

The attorneys wrote that Roof was "under the delusion that he would be rescued from prison by white-nationalists—but only, bizarrely, if he kept his mental-impairments out of the public record."

For more reporting by the Associated Press, see below.

Dylan Roof denied request for new hearing
Mass shooter Dylann Roof has lost the next phase of his appeal, with a federal court turning down his request for a new hearing to challenge his death sentence and conviction. Above, Roof is escorted out of the Cleveland County Courthouse in Shelby, North Carolina, on June 18, 2015. Chuck Burton/AP Photo

All of the judges from the 4th Circuit, which covers South Carolina, have recused themselves from hearing Roof's case, thus adding an uncommon wrinkle to the flow of his appeals process. One of their own, Judge Jay Richardson, prosecuted Roof's case as an assistant U.S. attorney.

Richardson led the case against Roof in 2017, when he became the first person in the U.S. sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. Authorities have said Roof opened fire during the closing prayer of a Bible study at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, raining down dozens of bullets on those assembled. He was 21 at the time.

In May, a panel composed of judges from several other appellate circuits heard Roof's case. Three months later, those judges rendered their decision, unanimously upholding his conviction and death sentence and issuing a scathing rebuke of Roof's crimes.

"No cold record or careful parsing of statutes and precedents can capture the full horror of what Roof did," the judges wrote. "His crimes qualify him for the harshest penalty that a just society can impose."

Roof subsequently asked that a full appellate court consider his case, arguing that the panel's decision interpreted too broadly the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which authorizes Congress to regulate commerce among the states. Government lawyers opposed that notion, arguing that prosecutors had proven their case.

If unsuccessful in his direct appeal, Roof could file what's known as a 2255 appeal, or a request that the trial court review the constitutionality of his conviction and sentence. He could also petition the U.S. Supreme Court or seek a presidential pardon.