Documents unsealed this week by federal Judge Richard Gergel say that convicted Charleston church killer Dylann Roof had a high but seriously flawed IQ.
The documents, which referred to assessments made of Roof by psychiatrist Dr. James Ballenger, said that Roof’s intelligence was compromised “by a significant discrepancy between his ability to comprehend and to process information and a poor working memory.”
Those evaluations were aired in a closed, pretrial Nov. 22 hearing on whether Roof was competent to stand trial. Judge Gergel, who closed that hearing to the public, ruled that Roof was competent to stand trial. A transcript of that two-day hearing remains closed.
Ballenger found that Roof suffered from “social anxiety disorder, a mixed substance abuse disorder, a schizoid personality disorder, depression by history and a possible autistic spectrum disorder,” according the document.
Throughout Roof’s subsequent trial in December and January, information about his mental state was not presented. Roof, 22, of Columbia, had insisted that no psychiatric evidence be presented to the jury. Roof got his wish over the objections of his defense lawyers, who in one just-unsealed document characterized him as “a “22-year-old high school dropout who frequently ignored the advice of his experienced counsel.”
In January, a federal jury sentenced Roof to death for hate crimes in connection with the 2015 shooting deaths of nine African-Americans in a historic Charleston church. A self-proclaimed white supremacist whom evidence showed was radicalized by Internet hate sites, Roof told the FBI he wanted to kill innocent black church members to start a race war.
Information about Roof’s mental state, as revealed at the Nov. 22 hearing, is contained in a just-unsealed document, dated Dec. 6, in which Roof’s lawyers cited their client’s mental issues as reasons for granting Roof special treatment during the then-upcoming trial.
“Without some accommodation, the defendant’s disabilities will impair his ability to participate in his trial,” Roof’s laywers said.
Roof’s mental issues, Roof’s lawyers asserted, include an excessive focus on non-essential details, difficulty processing multiple, simultaneous sources of information, an inability to retain information when required to focus on more than one thing at a time, an “extreme need” for routine, anxiety about the unforeseen and “a tendency to become easily overwhelmed.”
“These symptoms also rapidly drain the defendant’s energy because of the effort that he must exert in his efforts to manage them,” Roof’s lawyers said.
Because of those issues, Roof’s lawyers asked Gergel to have shorter trial days, fewer trial days each week and two days’ advance notice of which witnesses government prosecutors would call.
Gergel denied all requests. “The court finds no merit in the motion,” he wrote on Dec. 6, just before trial started.
In his ruling, just unsealed this week, Gergel noted that during the closed November hearings on Roof’s mental competency, Roof was “extremely engaged” in the two-day process. At the end of the hearing, Gergel found Roof legally competent to stand trial.
Under the law, being competent to stand trial means that a person is able to understand the proceedings against him and is able to participate in his defense. A person can have mental issues and still be found legally competent to stand trial.
No doubt existed that Roof committed the crime, one of the worst racial mass murders in modern American history. His lawyers, led by nationally prominent death penalty expert David Bruck, wanted to get mental illness evidence before the jury in hopes of getting the jury to give Roof life in prison instead of death.
No such evidence went before jury. Roof made a short speech to the jury just before it began its death penalty deliberations. He expressed no remorse, asked for no mercy. It took the jury three hours to decide to give him the death penalty.