Judges Won't Unrecuse Themselves to Hear Dylann Roof's Appeal in 2015 Church Shooting

The judges from an appellate court will not unrecuse themselves to hear Dylann Roof's appeal of his conviction and death sentence in the racially motivated 2015 shooting in a Black church in South Carolina, the Associated Press reported.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday issued its decision to refuse to reconsider recusing itself from Roof's appeal. All of the judges from the 4th Circuit, which covers South Carolina, have recused themselves from the case.

The court had denied Roof's request for a new hearing and also ruled against allowing a full court of substitute judges from other circuits to consider his case. Roof's attorneys wanted the judges who opted to sit out to reinstate themselves to consider the petition.

Roof's lawyers wrote that "no judges exist to consider" his rehearing petition, and are depriving him of "a critical level of appellate review."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Dylann Roof
The judges on the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals refuse to unrecuse themselves to hear Dylann Roof's appeal of his conviction and death sentence in the racially motivated 2015 shooting in a Black church in South Carolina. Above, Roof, who was convicted in the mass shooting that left nine dead, appears in court on July 18, 2015, in Charleston, South Carolina. Grace Beahm/Pool/Getty Images

No explicit reason was given for the recusals in a May notice, although one of the judges, Jay Richardson, prosecuted Roof's case as an assistant U.S. attorney in 2017, when Roof 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 other appellate circuits heard Roof's appeal, subsequently unanimously upholding his conviction and death sentence and issuing a scathing rebuke of Roof's crimes, which the judges wrote "qualify him for the harshest penalty that a just society can impose."

Roof's lawyers have argued he was wrongly allowed to represent himself during sentencing. Roof, his attorneys have said, successfully prevented jurors from hearing evidence about his mental health, "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."

According to court documents filed in another federal case, the FBI heard two neo-Nazi group members talk about trying to free Roof from the maximum-security prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he is an inmate, including details on the number of guards present and how a shootout would happen.

If unsuccessful in his direct appeal, Roof could file what's known as a 2255 appeal, 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.

Dylann Roof Appeal
Attorneys for the federal government have opposed Dylann Roof's request for a new appellate hearing, arguing that the South Carolina man was properly convicted and sentenced for the 2015 racially motivated slayings of nine members of a Black church congregation. Above, Roof is escorted from a courthouse on June 18, 2015. Chuck Burton, File/AP Photo