We recently learned that South Carolina mass shooter Dylann Roof decided to represent himself in his murder trial, prompting me to wonder if he was just trying to sabotage his own case. Considering that he’s potentially looking at the death penalty in both the state and federal cases against him, the monster seems to have had a moment of self-awareness over the weekend and has asked the judge to allow his legal team to go back on the job, at least for part of the proceedings. (ABC News)

The white man charged with the shooting deaths of nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church wants to stop acting as his own lawyer, at least for now.

The request filed Sunday comes a week after a federal judge allowed Dylann Roof to represent himself in the June 2015 slayings at Emanuel AME Church.

In a handwritten request, the 22-year-old Roof asks U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel to bring his defense team back on board for the guilt phase of his federal death penalty trial, which begins next week in Charleston.

The Charleston Post and Courier obtained a copy of the hand written note which the defendant sent to the judge. There’s no indication as to whether or not anyone helped him with it, but if nothing else it’s at least polite sounding.


There’s no word yet as to whether or not the judge will grant this request. Legal analysts are describing it as “highly unusual” at best, and possibly unprecedented in a death penalty case. So what is Roof up to here? It is perhaps possible that he still thinks he’s seated a jury with enough sympathetic members to let him off but he’s figured out that he doesn’t understand the complexities of the trial process well enough to maximize his chances. The fact that he wants to retain the ability to go back to representing himself in the sentencing phase (where the jury will decide if he dies or lives out his life in prison) would indicate that he’s not counting on winning either way.

So assuming he really wants to live, it’s something of a mystery as to why he would want to represent himself in the penalty phase if he’s found guilty. His attorneys wanted to argue yet again that he suffers from some sort of mental impairment or disease, hoping to provide enough doubt in the jurors’ minds to allow them to give him life without parole. Could Dylann Roof be planning to avoid the “stigma” of being described as mentally ill and instead craft some different narrative of his own? Alternately, I suppose he could be hoping to pull off some sort of stunt which would lead the jurors to think he’s crazy even while denying it. Or perhaps it’s more sinister than that. By acting as his own attorney, Roof will be be able to make pretty much whatever statements he wishes. Perhaps he just wants a platform to spew whatever sort of racist, Nazi bile is stewing in his brain as a sort of parting shot before he goes down in flames.

It would be beyond staggering if the jury came back and found him innocent. (He still wouldn’t be out of the woods with another trial to come, however.) But getting a jury to go for the death penalty can be a much tougher task. We may never know if Roof is planning something clever or is simply just as foolish and stupid as he appears. Either way, the trial should begin later this week (barring any more delaying motions and tactics) so we’ll find out soon enough.

Dylan Roof