Dylann Roof

Dylann Roof is an American white supremacist who carried out the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting on June 17, 2015. The attack killed nine.Alan Blinder and Kevin Sack, “Dylann Roof Found Guilty in Charleston Church Massacre,” New York Times, December 15, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/15/us/dylann-roof-trial.html. Roof claimed to FBI agents that the massacre was an attempt to bring back segregation and incite a race war. He is the first federal hate crime defendant to be sentenced to death and is currently awaiting execution at the maximum-security Terre Haute Federal Prison in Indiana while his attorneys appeal for a new trial.Avalon Zoppo, “Charleston Shooter Dylann Roof Moved to Death Row in Terre Haute Federal Prison,” NBC News, April 22, 2017, https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/charleston-church-shooting/charleston-shooter-dylann-roof-moved-death-row-terre-haute-federal-n749671; Meg Kinnard, “Dylann Roof takes church shooting appeal to US Supreme Court,” Associated Press, March 2, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/us-supreme-court-religion-shootings-south-carolina-charleston-7b89694504f9fc6ab9521592ea7c4ad6.

According to Roof, he had an epiphany and became radicalized after learning about the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager shot by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman in 2012.Keith O'Shea, Darran Simon and Holly Yan, “Dylann Roof's racist rants read in court,” CNN, December 14, 2016, https://www.cnn.com/2016/12/13/us/dylann-roof-murder-trial/index.html. Although Roof did not belong to any hate groups, Roof was an active consumer of racist material online and had a website called “The Last Rhodesian.” The site was filled with stereotypes and vitriolic sentiments against black, Jewish, and Hispanic people.Mark Berman, “Dylann Roof, accused Charleston church gunman, indicted on federal hate crime charges,” Washington Post, July 22, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2015/07/22/dylann-roof-accused-charleston-church-gunman-has-been-indicted-on-federal-hate-crime-charges/. Photos on the site showcased Roof holding a .45-caliber Glock pistol and a Confederate flag. Other photos featured Roof wearing a jacket with flags of apartheid-era South Africa.Ray Sanchez and Ed Payne, “Charleston church shooting: Who is Dylann Roof?,” CNN, December 16, 2015, https://www.cnn.com/2015/06/19/us/charleston-church-shooting-suspect/index.html. Another image showed Roof standing on and burning an American flag.Ray Sanchez and Ed Payne, “Charleston church shooting: Who is Dylann Roof?,” CNN, December 16, 2015, https://www.cnn.com/2015/06/19/us/charleston-church-shooting-suspect/index.html.

Roof’s former brushes with the law included two arrests in February and April of 2015. In the first incident, he was charged with misdemeanor drug possession for having suboxone, a Schedule III substance, on his person, and in the other incident, he was arrested on a trespassing charge. Both incidents took place at Columbiana Mall in Columbia, South Carolina.Eugene Volokh, “Dylann Roof apparently had not been arrested for a felony a month before he went through a gun purchase background check,” Washington Post, July 11, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/volokh-conspiracy/wp/2015/07/11/dylann-roof-apparently-had-not-been-arrested-for-a-felony-a-month-before-he-went-through-a-gun-purchase-background-check/.; Krishnadev Calamur, “What We Know So Far About Church Shooting Suspect Dylann Roof,” NPR, June 18, 2015, https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/06/18/415506320/what-we-know-so-far-about-accused-church-gunman-dylann-roof.; Krishnadev Calamur, “What We Know So Far About Church Shooting Suspect Dylann Roof,” NPR, June 18, 2015, https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/06/18/415506320/what-we-know-so-far-about-accused-church-gunman-dylann-roof.

On June 17, 2015, Roof opened fire during a bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, the South’s oldest black church.“Dylann Roof: white supremacist appeals death penalty on mental health grounds,” Guardian, January 28, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jan/28/dylann-roof-charleston-church-shooting-appeal. The attack killed nine people and injured one other. Roof immediately fled the scene, setting off an overnight manhunt.Nikita Stewart and Richard Pérez-Peña, “In Charleston, Raw Emotion at Hearing for Suspect in Church Shooting,” New York Times, June 19, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/20/us/charleston-shooting-dylann-storm-roof.html. The next day, a florist in North Carolina caught sight of Roof and tipped local police to his location. Roof was apprehended in Shelby, 200 miles away from the crime scene. He was then brought back to South Carolina to face his charges.“The Shootings in a Charleston Church,” New York Times, June 18, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/06/18/us/charleston-church-shooting-maps-and-suspect.html.

Roof confessed to investigators that his actions were premeditated and that he had scouted and researched churches in cities that would garner the most attention. He settled on Charleston because, according to his online manifesto which he published on his website 18 months before the massacre, that it is the “most historic city in my state.”Alan Blinder and Kevin Sack, “Dylann Roof Found Guilty in Charleston Church Massacre,” New York Times, December 15, 2016, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/15/us/dylann-roof-trial.html.

Roof’s trial began on June 19, 2015 in South Carolina. He was charged on nine counts including murder and criminal possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime.Nikita Stewart and Richard Pérez-Peña, “In Charleston, Raw Emotion at Hearing for Suspect in Church Shooting,” New York Times, June 19, 2015, https://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/20/us/charleston-shooting-dylann-storm-roof.html. On July 22, 2015, a federal grand jury in South Carolina indicted Roof on 33 counts, including federal hate and firearm charges.Catherine E. Shoichet and Evan Perez, “Dylann Roof faces hate crime charges in Charleston shooting,” CNN, July 22, 2015, https://www.cnn.com/2015/07/22/us/charleston-shooting-hate-crime-charges/index.html. Throughout his trial, Roof never showed remorse for his actions, saying, “I felt like I had to do it, and I still do feel like I had to do it.”Khushbu Shah and Eliott C. McLaughlin, “Victim's dad warns Dylann Roof: 'Your creator ... he's coming for you',” CNN, January 11, 2017, https://www.cnn.com/2017/01/11/us/dylann-roof-sentencing/index.html.

On January 10, 2017, a federal jury in Charleston sentenced Roof to death on 18 capital counts, including nine counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to his hate crimes and obstruction of religious exercise.Jon Schuppe and Jamie Morrison, “Dylann Roof Sentenced to Death for Charleston Church Massacre,” NBC News, January 10, 2017, https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/charleston-church-shooting/dylann-roof-sentenced-death-charleston-church-massacre-n705376.; “Federal Jury Sentences Dylann Storm Roof to Death,” United States Department of Justice, January 10, 2017, https://www.justice.gov/usao-sc/pr/federal-jury-sentences-dylann-storm-roof-death. On April 22, 2017, Roof was transferred to death row at Terre Haute Federal Prison in Indiana. The facility houses male inmates who are awaiting execution and are put to death by lethal injection.Avalon Zoppo, “Charleston Shooter Dylann Roof Moved to Death Row in Terre Haute Federal Prison,” NBC News, April 22, 2017, https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/charleston-church-shooting/charleston-shooter-dylann-roof-moved-death-row-terre-haute-federal-n749671.

On January 29, 2020, Roof appealed his federal convictions and death sentence, claiming he was mentally ill when he represented himself in former trials. Roof’s lawyers claimed that U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel should not have allowed Roof to represent himself because he had been diagnosed with “schizophrenia-spectrum disorder, autism, anxiety, and depression” and was mentally unfit to defend himself. Despite his lawyers’ claims, a federal judge deemed Roof mentally competent enough for the trial to move forward.Denise Lavoie, “White Supremacist Dylann Roof Appeals Death Penalty in South Carolina Church Massacre,” January 29, 2020, Time, https://time.com/5773439/dylan-roof-appeals-death-penalty/.; Katie Shepherd, “Dylann Roof’s lawyers appeal death sentence for Charleston church massacre, arguing the trial was ‘tainted’ by mental health issues,” Washington Post, January 29, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/01/29/roof-charleston-appeal/.

Roof’s attorneys have continued to file appeals and request a new trial, arguing Roof should not have been allowed to represent himself during the initial trial. On May 23, 2021, Roof appealed his case before the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, Virginia. As the 4th Circuit includes South Carolina, all the judges from the 4th Circuit recused themselves from the case and a three-judge panel from other appellate circuits heard the case instead.Meg Kinnard, “Charleston church shooter making appellate arguments,” Associated press, May 23, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/sc-state-wire-donald-trump-charleston-religion-shootings-d59bf47614071023aec651017cae557e; Meg Kinnard, “Dylann Roof asks judges to reconsider recusal from his case,” Associated Press, October 4, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/dylann-roof-south-carolina-courts-religion-3ced0fe5c2482dbb12d0aeea121d2fcd. Roof’s attorney argued he should have been ruled incompetent to stand trial. On August 25, 2021, the 4th Circuit upheld Roof’s conviction and death sentence. According to the ruling, “Dylann Roof murdered African Americans at their church, during their Bible-study and worship. They had welcomed him. He slaughtered them. He did so with the express intent of terrorizing not just his immediate victims at the historically important Mother Emanuel Church, but as many similar people as would hear of the mass murder.”Meg Kinnard and Denise Lavoie, “Court upholds death sentence for church shooter Dylann Roof,” Associated Press, August 25, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/religion-389bcc56019f268cb1056e37a517bd6c. Roof’s attorneys continued their appeal process on September 27, 2021, when they requested the 4th Circuit grant a new hearing, as well as designate a court of substitute judges from other circuits to consider the case. The court rejected the request, writing it “declines to take the unprecedented step” of seeking a full substitute court to consider Roof’s request for a new appellate hearing.Meg Kinnard, “Court denies Dylann Roof’s request for new appellate hearing,” Associated Press, September 28, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/religion-courts-south-carolina-dylann-roof-3342281e341684a45ea584209329d540; Meg Kinnard, “Dylann Roof asks judges to reconsider recusal from his case,” Associated Press, October 4, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/dylann-roof-south-carolina-courts-religion-3ced0fe5c2482dbb12d0aeea121d2fcd.  

Roof’s attorneys subsequently requested the judges who had recused themselves from the case reinstate themselves to hear Roof’s appeal.Meg Kinnard, “Court denies Dylann Roof’s request for new appellate hearing,” Associated Press, September 28, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/religion-courts-south-carolina-dylann-roof-3342281e341684a45ea584209329d540; Meg Kinnard, “Dylann Roof asks judges to reconsider recusal from his case,” Associated Press, October 4, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/dylann-roof-south-carolina-courts-religion-3ced0fe5c2482dbb12d0aeea121d2fcd. The 4th Circuit rejected the request on October 12, 2021.Meg Kinnard, “Dylann Roof’s request to reconsider recusal is denied,” Associated Press, October 13, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/dylann-roof-charleston-south-carolina-hate-crimes-religion-729e72e6ea83ebf6134f7f95bcd6a6f2. In late February 2022, Roof’s attorneys requested the U.S. Supreme Court rule on disagreements over mental illness-related evidence between capital defendants and their attorneys. Roof’s attorneys argued Roof’s decision to fire his legal team and represent himself during the sentencing phase of his trial prevented the introduction of key evidence that would have portrayed him as mentally ill. According to Roof’s attorneys, had he been tried in another jurisdiction, he would “not have been forced to self-represent at his capital trial to block his own attorneys from presenting evidence he abhorred.”Meg Kinnard, “Dylann Roof takes church shooting appeal to US Supreme Court,” Associated Press, March 2, 2022, https://apnews.com/article/us-supreme-court-religion-shootings-south-carolina-charleston-7b89694504f9fc6ab9521592ea7c4ad6.

On October 28, 2021, the Justice Department reached an $88 million settlement with the families of nine of Roof’s victims over a faulty background check that allowed Roof to purchase a gun after his February 2015 arrest. Settlements for the families of those killed ranged from $6 million to $7.5 million per claimant, while survivors’ settlements were $5 million per claimant. One of the attorneys involved in the negotiations told the Associated Press the 88 number is intentional because the association of the number with the white supremacist movement as 88 is representative of the letters HH, or Heil Hitler.Meg Kinnard, “US to pay $88M to families, victims of SC church massacre,” Associated Press, October 28, 2021, https://apnews.com/article/religion-shootings-south-carolina-columbia-massacres-bf74d1568bec6199712b3423f71fda9a.

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