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Dylann Roof's attorneys motion for new trial, seek to throw out death sentence

Defense attorneys for church shooter Dylann Roof are seeking a new trial for the Eastover man convicted of committing hate crimes and condemned to a death sentence. The motion comes on the deadline to file an appeal.

The nine-page filing from the defense team seeks to have the death sentences handed down earlier this year vacated, but did not bring issue with the dozen life sentences.

Attorney David Bruck calls into question two issues regarding the other convictions, both of which were questioned and overruled in pretrial motions last year.

First, Bruck questions whether Roof using the internet before the attack, the interstate highway system after the attack, as well as making use of a handgun and ammunition and other items made out of state constitute a violation of interstate commerce.

Prosecutors presented several witnesses during the guilt phase of Roof's trial that worked to make that link between Roof's purchases, movements, and actions as having an affect on interstate commerce.


"The test is not whether items involved in this case were in interstate commerce, but whether the offense was in or affecting interstate commerce," Bruck argued in the motion.

Bruck even notes when the defense motioned to have the case dismissed, U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson said the location of the attack, Emanuel AME Church, was a place involved in interstate commerce through its many works.

"But the government did not present evidence to substantiate this contention. Instead, it relied on a theory that the use in planning or carrying out the offense of any item with a connection to interstate commerce – no matter how attenuated – establishes that the offense itself is 'in or affecting interstate commerce,'" Bruck writes.

SPECIAL SECTION: The Emanuel AME Shooting

Bruck also rekindled his earlier argument whether Roof's crime involved the use of violent force as established by federal hate crime law.

"This is not the first time – nor will it be the last – in which the categorical

approach has required a finding that seems at odds with the facts of the case: how could this crime not be a crime of violence? Courts have recognized the cognitive dissonance that results from the application of the law in this manner," he writes.

Bruck notes there is some vagueness in the law that was not addressed by the court during the Roof trial. But he asks for a delay in the court's decision to grant a new trial until the Supreme Court takes up a similar question on vagueness in Sessions (formerly Lynch) v. Dimaya.

In that case, the Court is asked to determine whether the Immigration and Nationality Act's guidelines concerning a person's removal from the U.S. is unconstitutionally vague.

The case was argued before the court on Jan. 17, so it could be months before the Supreme Court renders a decision on the issue.

Roof is also set to be tried on state murder charges, and prosecutors there have said they are seeking the death penalty as well.

However, after the federal jury returned multiple death sentences family members of the victims have said they are satisfied and don't see a need to have the case tried again in a state court.

The case has been indefinitely postponed. Roof remains in the Charleston County Detention Center.

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