Unsealed docs show Roof sought travel friend on Craigslist, growing divide with attorneys
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) —
About five months before the mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church, the now-condemned shooter turned to Craigslist to seek a travel companion for his upcoming trips to Charleston.
Dylann Roof, who was convicted and sentenced to death for killing nine people in a bible study, made several trips to the Lowcountry from his Eastover home in the months leading up to the shooting on June 17, 2015.
In an unsealed filing focusing on the likely testimony of FBI Special Agent Joseph Hamski and several other people, it was revealed that Roof penned a Craigslist ad in February.
It caught the attention of Dr. Thomas Hiers, a retired child psychologist, who was going to tell jurors the post was concerning because beside Roof’s profile photo it read: “No Jews, queers, or [racial slurs].”
Hiers reached out to Roof via email where Roof continued to espouse his racist views. Hiers would have testified that he told Roof to look at the world in a different way and even offered to pay him for every TED talk he watched online.
“The defendant responded by thanking Dr. Hiers for the suggestion and said Dr. Hiers seemed like a nice man, but said he could not take the suggestions because, ‘I am in bed, so depressed I cannot get out of bed. My life is wasted. I have no friends even though I am cool. I am going back to sleep.’”
Hiers tried to get Roof to meet with one of Hiers’ colleagues for lunch, but Roof never replied.
Defense attorneys used the story to show Roof’s depression at a key point in Roof’s timeline leading up to the shooting.
In a number of sealed filings in the months leading up to the start of Roof’s federal trial, defense attorneys tried to introduce details of Roof’s mental disorders.
Summarized conclusions from a court-appointed psychologist from MUSC show there were early presumptions that Roof fell somewhere on the Autistic Spectrum.
Another expert testified that Roof is definitely autistic, and while it was concluded Roof is intelligent, “the defendant’s high IQ is compromised by a significant discrepancy between his ability to comprehend and to process information and a poor working memory,” one filing reads.
SPECIAL SECTION: Emanuel AME Shooting
According to the filing, Roof has a detail-oriented approach to everything he does and lacks a “big-picture orientation.” He also has difficulty processing multiple simultaneous sources of information, and he can’t retain information that comes in from multiple sources at once. Roof needs a predictable routine because he is anxious about things he can’t predict nor can he adjust to the unexpected, the filing reads.
The details of Roof’s personality came as defense attorneys sought a set of accommodations for Roof during the trial, including breaks between witnesses, shorter trial days, and even a shortened week.
The request was denied.
The newly unsealed documents -- more than 1,000 pages in all -- show defense attorneys David Bruck, Sarah Gannett, and Kim Stevens fought to protect their client’s privacy and rights at every turn.
After learning more than two weeks after Roof’s cell had been searched and his personal journal had been copied and handed over to federal investigators, they tried to get the writings suppressed.
It contained “extremely sensitive, confidential, case-related material,” and Bruck said the writings were done by Roof at the request of his attorneys so they could lead him down certain avenues of defense as they built their case.
Even Roof’s public defender in state court, Ashley Pennington, testified in a closed hearing on the writings.
After the suppression hearing, defense attorneys again tried to get the details of Roof’s jailhouse journal tossed out.
However, that was also denied and the entire 31-page notebook was read aloud in court during the penalty phase of the trial.
The defense team tried to cull the expansive witness and evidence lists submitted by the government that showed prosecutors had a list of 153 witnesses, including several members of Roof’s own family.
"We calculate that the list includes 2833 pages of photographs and documents, 49 audio files, and 40 video files,” one motion reads.
District Judge Richard Gergel did push U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson to cut down on the number of witnesses and even pointed out several times during the trial times where the testimony was repetitive.
But many of the courtroom battles to suppress evidence related to Roof were lost. Gergel allowed prosecutors to use details from Roof’s confession to the things seized in his car and house.
And while Bruck and his fellow defense attorneys fought for Roof, they also had to fight against someone they depicted more than once as a troubled child with little education.
As the start of the trial drew closer, Roof pulled away and seemed to rarely take the advice of his appointed attorneys.
In one instance, he insisted on wearing his Charleston County Detention Center jumpsuit during jury selection. Bruck alerted the court so that there was not a question of what was happening with potential jurors in the gallery.
"Within the limits of decency and decorum, Defendant is free to dress as he wishes when appearing in court,” Gergel ruled in an order.
During the trial, Roof pushed aside his attorneys and decided to represent himself in the penalty phase.
It led for more calls for a competency hearing “to determine whether the defendant is willing to proceed to trial with his current counsel, and to address (depending on what emerges at the hearing) whether the defendant is competent to assert or waive legal and constitutional rights..."
Even after the defense attorneys were relegated to standby counsel for Roof, Bruck filed a motion with the court to wrestle control of the case away from the convicted killer.
Bruck argued Roof’s “developmental disability and mental illness are sufficiently severe as to render him incompetent to conduct trial proceedings by himself."
But that attempt also failed in the court and with Roof.
At the conclusion of the trial, Roof asked the court for new attorneys to be appointed to his case because he did not trust Bruck. Roof and his attorneys seemed to be at odds on how to present a defense throughout the trial. Roof did not want details of his mental health or childhood released.
The result was a case that produced no evidence or witnesses and lacked any cross-examination of the government’s testimony.
There are still nearly two dozen documents related to the trial that are sealed, including specific details of Roof’s competency and what court-appointed psychologists found during mental exams.
Roof is fighting to have those remain sealed.
More documents could be released in March or April.