Judge denies Charleston Church shooter’s request for new trial

The gunman convicted of killing nine black parishioners at a Charleston church two years ago will not get a new trial, a federal judge ruled last week.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Mark Gergel issued the decision in a May 10 opinion in which he rejects Dylann Roof’s argument his convictions lack legal muster as “crimes of violence” or violations of the “interstate commerce nexus.”

In the 31-page ruling, Gergel called Roof’s arguments unconvincing and, at times, categorically false. “Defendant at times has argued as if causation of death were not an element of the offenses for which he was convicted,” he said. “That is simply not true.”

Jurors handed Roof the death penalty in January after convicting him on 33 offenses, including murder and hate crimes, stemming from the June 17, 2015 attack at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. Roof gunned down nine black parishioners during a bible study that evening and later told investigators he wanted to ignite a race war.

Roof never expressed remorse for the killings and rejected his legal team’s attempts to paint him as mentally disturbed and too incompetent to stand trial.

“In my (FBI confession) tape I told them I had to,” Roof told jurors during his closing statement at the January sentencing hearing. “But it’s not true: I didn’t have to. No one made me. What I meant was: I felt like I had to do it. I still feel like I have to do it.”

“From what I’ve been told, I have a right to ask to give me a life sentence,” he added. “But I’m not sure what good that would do anyway.”

Jurors deliberated three hours before sentencing Roof to die. A month later, Roof’s legal team filed a motion for a new trial, claiming despite no evidence ever presented to the contrary, the convictions for which Roof was found guilty don’t meet required legal standards.

“Defendant argues that because his offense was non-economic, because he did not travel in interstate commerce to commit it, and because he used items purchased in South Carolina, the Government failed to establish that the offense-that is, the intentional, forcible obstruction of the free exercise of religion-was in or affected interstate commerce,” Gergel said. “Defendant argues that the proper test is whether the offense was in interstate commerce, not whether the items used to commit the offense were in interstate commerce. The Court finds that argument unpersuasive.”

Gergel said Roof’s use of GPS navigation satellites, interstate highways and a Russia-based service to host his online manifesto, all proved counter to his argument.

“Defendant purchased hollow-point bullets, magazines, and a firearm that had all traveled in interstate commerce. Defendant entered Mother Emanuel carrying the firearm and loaded magazines in a tactical pouch that had traveled in interstate commerce. Inside the church, Defendant used the items he procured to kill nine parishioners,” he said. “Defendant presented no evidence to counter this evidence, and a rational fact-finder viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the Government could conclude that the Government established an interstate commerce nexus.”

The motion came a week before Gergel unsealed a trove of documents from Roof’s November competency hearings. Journalists from several major media outlets were permitted to view the records, including prison videos, though Gergel has declined making the information publicly available.

Article updated at 8 pm CST on May 17, 2017

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