A federal court rejected a request by Dylann Roof, the unabashed white supremacist who killed nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church two years ago, to dismiss his attorneys because they’re Jewish and Indian.
Roof, who was sent to death row for the June 2015 massacre at a historically black church in Charleston, requested that the two public defenders appointed to handle his appeal be removed from his case, saying their ethnicities are “a barrier to effective communication.”
“Because of my political views, which are arguably religious, it will be impossible for me to trust two attorneys that are my political and biological enemies,” the 23-year-old said in a handwritten, three-page motion filed Monday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. The court denied the request in a one-sentence ruling Tuesday.
His attorneys, Alexandra Yates and Sapna Mirchandani, did not respond to requests for comment.
Rishi Bagga, president of the South Asian Bar Association of North America, said that requesting an attorney’s removal should be based on legal abilities. He said Roof’s comments highlight a challenge among public defenders, who often have to represent clients who don’t reflect their own views.
“It’s really part of a lawyer’s oath to represent someone to the best of their ability regardless of their own beliefs, religion or background or origin,” Bagga said.
Roof has been on death row since a jury convicted him of dozens of charges, including federal hate crimes, for the deaths of nine parishioners who had invited him into their Bible study at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Federal prosecutors said Roof committed the massacre to try to start a race war, and they presented as evidence his videotaped confession, in which Roof made no effort to deny the killings. The two-hour video, played during the third day of Roof’s trial in December, showed him calm — laughing at times — as he confessed to the deadly shooting.
He was nonchalant when he explained to FBI agents why he chose to gun down six women and three men. With a few swift motions of his right arm, he demonstrated how he pulled out his .45-caliber Glock and opened fire — taking 77 total shots.
“Well yeah, I mean, I just went to that church in Charleston and, uh, I did it,” Roof told agents when they asked him to explain what happened.
Roof wavered briefly when the agents asked him to describe exactly what he had done. “Well, I killed them, I guess,” he said.
He also tried to justify the killings, saying what he did was “so minuscule” to what black people are “doing to white people every day all the time.”
“I had to do it because somebody had to do something,” he told the agents. “Black people are killing white people every day on the street, and they are raping white women.”
Prosecutors also introduced Roof’s jailhouse journal, in which he wrote that he does not regret what he did. “I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed,” he said.
Roof’s new court filing isn’t the first time he has complained about his attorneys. During his trial, he sought to drop his defense attorney, David Isaac Bruck, whom Roof threatened to kill if he got out of jail. Bruck is also Jewish.
Roof sought to argue on his own behalf during the trial’s sentencing phase, a portion of a capital murder case during which defense attorneys argue for a more lenient sentence. A judge later determined that Roof was competent to represent himself as long as his legal team was on standby.
In the handwritten motion filed Monday, Roof said Bruck’s Jewish heritage “was a constant source of conflict” despite Roof’s efforts to “look past it.”
The “difficulties” at his trial, Roof argued, should justify removal of his public defenders serving as his appellate attorneys. He said his appeal “should be worked on and written by lawyers with my best interests in mind.”
Roof was also charged at the state level. He avoided a second death penalty trial after pleading guilty in March to nine counts of murder, three counts of attempted murder and a related weapons charge. He was given nine consecutive life sentences in April.
Court records unsealed in May provided a glimpse into Roof’s mind. Experts who examined him said he was less concerned over his own fate and worried more about whether certain family members were eating together, how his cats were doing without him, what was written on his Wikipedia page and what he was going to wear in court.
He also resisted the autism diagnosis from a psychologist hired by his defense team, saying autism was for “nerds” and “losers,” according to court records. The “state psychiatrist told me there is nothing wrong with me,” according to court records paraphrasing Roof’s statements. “I don’t have autism. I’m just a sociopath.”
As Roof sits in a federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., a mural in Ann Arbor, Mich., was vandalized with racist graffiti supporting Roof.
“Free Dylann Roof, I Hate N——,” it said, according to the Michigan Daily.
Lindsey Bever contributed to this report.