Dylann Roof, who infamously shot and killed nine African-Americans engaged in bible study at a Charleston, South Carolina church, chose to represent himself during the sentencing phase of his federal capital trial. During his “presentation”, he informed the jury that there was nothing wrong with him psychologically and also stated, in essence, that he would do it again. Any statements Roof made concerning his psychological status were, however, totally false. At some point during the two months preceding his sentencing hearing, a Court-appointed psychiatrist examined Roof and discovered evidence of numerous mental health disorders. Additionally, Roof had described himself as severely depressed in the months preceding the shooting.
Significantly, Roof chose to represent himself at sentencing rather than allow his defense team to do so. His decision on this issue appears to have been calculated and deliberate. Roof’s defense team wanted to argue to the jury that he should not be sentenced to death for his actions because of his mental health issues. Roof, however, specifically and unequivocally did not want the jury that was going to determine whether he should die for his crimes to hear of his psychological conditions. As a result, his jury did not learn about any of the psychiatric evaluations prepared in connection with his case prior to deciding on his sentence. And the jury is not alone on this issue – the record of Court-ordered evaluations was sealed by the trial judge. Sealed documents from Roof’s trial are now being slowly released; however, documents pertaining to psychiatric evaluations prepared at the request of the Court or Roof’s defense team are not included. The transcripts of two competency hearings also remain under wraps. Thus, the documents that could provide the best indication of Roof’s motivations for his crimes are unavailable.
In fact, the relatively small amount of available information suggests strongly that Roof is something of a psychological basket case. Motion papers filed by Roof’s defense team prior to trial noted that he suffered from Social Anxiety Disorder, a Mixed Substance Abuse Disorder, a Schizoid Personality Disorder, Depression and, possibly, an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. The papers also noted that Roof had a relatively high IQ, but that it was compromised by his inability to process information and poor memory. Further, defense attorneys get to learn a lot about their clients as they work through their cases with them. Counsel’s papers also included personal observations and assessments concerning Roof’s abilities and actions. They informed the Court that Roof tended to focus on unimportant details, could not process information from multiple sources, displayed a heightened need for predictability, and was easily overwhelmed. Had the jury known of these issues, the sentencing result may have been different. Continue reading