Dylann Roof's attorneys wanted to argue he was delusional. had 'crippling' anxiety

Dylann Roof (Grace Beahm/The Post And Courier via AP, Pool)

Court documents unsealed Wednesday from Dylann Roof’s federal hate crimes trial show attorneys wanted to use Roof being on the autism spectrum, and several other mental health issues as a possible defense for the convicted Emanuel AME gunman.

Mitigating factors regarding Roof's mental health were why his attorneys questioned if he was mentally competent to stand trial, and had Judge Richard Gergel grant a mental evaluation for him before Roof was allowed to go forward with self-representation.

“There is a good deal of … substantial mental impairment that is affecting his behavior,” said David Bruck, Roof’s lead attorney at the time. “If the decisions that he is making are … the product of mental illness, and for that reason he is attempting to sabotage his defense … it is an illustration of why it is so terrible to try an incompetent defendant.”


Bruck argued during a November 2016 pre-trial hearing that Roof’s strong opposition to being “labeled autistic” mainly boiled down to embarrassment about the fact that it would become public knowledge and wind up on his Wikipedia page.

This, Bruck said during the hearing, was one of many examples of several mental disorders Roof may have suffered from. Bruck said mental health experts diagnosed Roof with both an autism spectrum disorder and anxiety disorder, said he also suffered from psychosis and delusions, depression, and even early signs of schizophrenia.

Bruck called Roof’s anxiety severe – so severe that he rarely left his bedroom in his mother’s home after he dropped out of high school in the ninth grade.

“(Roof) has told us over and over again that his greatest fear, his greatest concern is a crippling … embarrassment,” Bruck said. “He just told us his entire life is one timeline of embarrassment. … He is a person who is really unable to endure the anxiety that comes with social interaction.”

Bruck also described Roof, according to the documents, as a “precocious 10-year-old,” afraid of having “blushing attacks” in the courtroom.

Roof’s anxiety, Bruck said, was especially intense when it came to people looking at him, and his face. Bruck said Roof couldn’t bear for people to look at his face or to see photographs of his face.

“When he was in middle school, his mother now tells us … that he used to tell her to speed up … so the person in the next car wouldn't pull up alongside and be able to see his face,” Bruck said. “We also heard from peers that he used to wear a hoodie to disguise his face.”

Documents show Bruck said during the hearing

the one thing defense attorneys did right by Roof was taking steps to get Roof’s case tried first in federal court, where television cameras aren’t allowed.

“He could not tolerate the anxiety and distress that that causes,” Bruck said. “He is on a different planet from the rest of us.”

Bruck said Roof’s anxiety directly relates to his psychosis and delusions, which centered on“fixed false beliefs about his body” – especially his face. Therein lies the explanation for Roof’s infamous “bowl” haircut, according to Bruck.

“(Roof) has had a long-standing somatic delusion that his face is malformed and his forehead is unsightly. This is the reason for the bowled haircut,” Bruck said. “He is afraid that anyone will see his forehead.”

Bruck pointed out that when Roof was assaulted by another inmate in the Al Cannon Detention Center in August 2015, he refused to cooperate with the investigation or press charges because photos of him with his hair pulled back and showing his wounded forehead would become public.

“He is extremely upset that he allowed his photograph to be taken of his forehead,” Bruck said. “He became very irate and upset when (attorneys) indicated that we wished to offer those photographs as part of his case in mitigation.”

Bruck said another of Roof’s delusions was his belief that the testosterone in his body was all pooled on his left side. Bruck said Roof continued to believe this despite a doctor and a neuropsychologist explaining to him that was impossible.

Bruck claimed Roof also has a long-standing delusion that his hair is falling out and he will soon be bald because of a mild thyroid disorder. Bruck said the condition is mild, but Roof has attached “irrational significance” to it.

According to Bruck, Roof’s delusions extended beyond self-consciousness over his appearance, and were shaped by his well-documented white supremacist beliefs.

“He does not believe he's going to get executed, no matter what sentence is imposed or what court, because he firmly believes that there will be a white nationalist takeover of the United States within roughly six, seven, eight years,” Bruck said, according to court documents.

“When that happens, (Roof believes) he will be pardoned,” Bruck went on to say. “And he also believes it probable, although not certain, that he will be given a high position, such as the governorship of South Carolina.”

Bruck said Roof delusions about his future were informed by anecdote regarding Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, who was not executed until six years after his crime.

According to court records, Bruck said Roof believes that means he also will spend at least six years in prison, “which will allow all kinds of miraculous events to occur in the meantime.”

As for evidence of schizophrenia, Bruck said experts pointed to Roof’s heavy self-medication through drug use as a symptom of the early stages of the disorder.

Roof, however, vehemently objected to any notion of using possible mental illness as a defense, saying he would rather die than be labeled mentally ill, or as having an autism spectrum disorder.

Roof parlayed his outrage over the notion that he was mentally ill into his ultimate ability to represent himself during part of the trial in order to avoid such a defense.

Roof was ultimately declared mentally competent to stand trial twice – once before his trial, and again prior to sentencing after he had been found guilty.

Roof appealed his death sentence, asking for a retrial, but Judge Gergel denied that motion Wednesday.

Roof is currently on death row at a federal prison in Indiana.

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