Attorneys for convicted Charleston church killer Dylann Roof have filed a motion for a new trial in federal court in Charleston.
The motion is a normal defense move following the conclusion of a criminal trial. It is most likely the first of many post-trial motions and appeals in Roof’s case in the years to come as his death penalty conviction wends its way through the federal court system.
Federal Judge Richard Gergel, who ruled repeatedly against most motions made on behalf of Roof during his death penalty trial in December and January, is not expected to approve this motion.
In December, a federal jury found Roof, 22, a white supremacist from Columbia, guilty in the 2015 hate crime killings of nine African-Americans during a Bible study at a historic downtown Charleston church, Mother Emanuel AME.
In January, the same federal jury ruled Roof, who showed no remorse for the execution-style killings, should get the death penalty for his crimes.
In their nine-page motion, Roof’s defense attorneys argued that, although Roof used the internet, highways, a gun and ammunition manufactured out of state, the government failed to prove during trial that those interstate links to Roof were sufficient enough to allow the government to put the federal religious obstruction charge before the jury.
“This offense was committed entirely within the state of South Carolina,” the defense motion said.
“There is no evidence that any of the defendant’s actions – even considering his internet use and travel to Charleston – involved more than the incidental and everyday use of instrumentalities and channels of interstate commerce that are inherent in American life in the 21st century.”
Defense attorneys made one other argument: that a “use of force” argument used by federal prosecutors in some of the charges the jury found Roof guilty of should not have been used.
In their motion, defense attorneys told Gergel they are not waiving their right to raise other issues in later appeals.
“However, because these issues are dispositive regarding the defendant’s death sentences, a finding in his favor on this motion would resolve the case, since he would not challenge further the resulting sentences of life in prison without the possibility of release,” defense attorneys wrote.
During the trial, defense attorneys made it clear that two other major issues that could be raised on appeal were whether Roof was legally competent to stand trial, and whether he should have had the right to act as his own lawyer during the jury selection and death penalty phases of the trial. Gergel ruled both that Roof was legally competent and, as such, that he had the right to self-represent.