America Is Stuck With the Death Penalty for (At Least) a Generation

With Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement, the national fight to abolish capital punishment will have to go local.
When the Supreme Court revived capital punishment in 1976, just four years after de facto abolishing it, the justices effectively took ownership of the American death penalty and all its outcomes. They have spent the decades since then setting its legal and constitutional parameters, supervising its general implementation, sanctioning its use in specific cases, and brushing aside concerns about its many flaws.
That unusual role in the American legal system is about to change. With Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement from the court this summer, the Supreme Court will lose a heterodox jurist whose willingness to cross ideological divides made him the deciding factor in many legal battles. In cases involving the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment, his judgment often meant the difference between life and death for hundreds of death-row pr…

Dylann Roof's attorneys suspected he had autism, said he had 'blushing attacks'

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof
Attorneys representing Charleston church killer Dylann Roof told an examiner Roof suffered from "blushing attacks," believed his forehead is "too large and ugly" and likely suffered from autism, according to a recently unsealed evaluation that was conducted to see if Roof was mentally fit to stand trial.

The Nov. 15 report revealed extensive details involving Roof's past, including a drug history dating to when he was 12 years old and used marijuana 3 times a day. The report says Roof took Xanax 20 times when he was 13, although it's unclear over how much time. He also was treated for alcohol and marijuana as an outpatient from March 2009 through June 2009.

The report, unsealed Wednesday, was an evaluation ordered by presiding federal Judge Richard Gergel following a letter that Roof submitted to the prosecution claiming his attorneys were preparing to use a "lie that he was autistic" and that he disagreed with it. The evaluation delayed the start of the federal trial until December.

Other details revealed include that when Roof was arrested with a friend in 2010 - the report doesn't say why - they were so "extremely intoxicated" that Roof had to be evaluated and treated at a hospital. His attorneys said that Roof also allegedly told people that he had stopped using marijuana because it made him paranoid and hear voices.

Roof told his evaluators that he had suffered from perhaps one panic attack and previously had been placed on medication for anxiety, the report said. Yet, Roof's defense attorneys told the evaluator that Roof did not want pictures shown in court because he suffered from "blushing attacks."

"They describe that he has 'blushing attacks' when he is upset in public, and his 'whole body blushes, including his face, arms, and exposed areas,'" the report said. "One of their experts has suggested it is like panic attack. These attacks began when he was 16, and the triggers are not clear."

His attorneys also said Roof was obsessed with his appearance, primarily his forehead, which he felt was "too large and ugly." Roof's attorneys went on to say that they suspected he didn't push for the prosecution of the inmate who beat him while in jail because the picture taken of Roof after the attack required him to pull his hair back and expose his forehead to document injuries, the report said.

Other details shared in a different report from January revealed Roof did not want any mental health evidence introduced at his trial because he didn't want "any issue to take away from the rationale he had for committing his crimes."

At the time, Roof told evaluator Dr. James Ballenger that his (Roof's) lawyers "think he should primarily fight for his life and that be his number one priority, and he disagrees," wrote Ballenger in the Jan. 1 report to Gergel.

"He (Roof) said that he has only two options (death and life in prison), and they are both 'equally bad.' That is why preserving his reputation is the most important issue for him, not whether he receives the death penalty or life in prison," wrote James Ballenger, the court-appointed evaluator.

"He stated that if his reputation was ruined, ... that his 'life would be ruined.' He continues to feel that the only thing that is important to him is to protect his reputation," Ballenger wrote.

At the end of the report, Ballenger gave his opinion: Roof was competent to continue with his ongoing death penalty trial in the 2015 white supremacist slayings of nine innocent African-American church members at a historic Charleston church Bible study.

In December, a federal jury in Charleston had found Roof guilty of the killings. On Jan. 10, after 3 hours of deliberations, the jury gave an unremorseful Roof the death penalty.

Ballenger's Jan. 1 22-page report to the judge was one of hundreds of pages was unsealed Wednesday by Gergel. During the trial, Gergel kept numerous documents sealed to preserve Roof's right to a fair trial.

The process of unsealing has been time-consuming, in part because Roof and his lawyers had objections to much of the sealed record.

Source: thestate.com, May 11, 2017

Dylann Roof said white nationalists would save him from death row

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof
Convicted mass murderer Dylann Roof told a psychologist working for his defense team that his death penalty wouldn't be carried out because he'd "be rescued by white nationalists after they took over the government."

That's according to a November report composed amid Roof's trial for killing nine parishioners in 2015 at Charleston's Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The report also says Roof was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder "based on the presence of social-communication challenges and atypical behaviors."

It goes on to say Roof was suffering or had suffered from "psychiatric symptoms that are not explained by autism spectrum disorder, including anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, obsessive-compulsive symptoms, disordered thinking, and psychosis (including delusions of grandeur and somatic delusions)."

Roof's somatic delusions -- which are defined as false beliefs that something is grossly wrong with one's body -- include unfounded complaints of hair loss and thyroid disease, according to reports.

"It is my impression that it is too early to predict his psychiatric trajectory," Dr. Rachel Loftin wrote in one report, "but his symptoms appear to me to be consistent with the schizophrenia spectrum."

Document dump

The revelations came after US District Judge Richard Gergel unsealed 19 documents from competency hearings that help paint a picture of the 23-year-old's mental state both as a teen and while he was being held in prison after the church massacre.

In November, a judge halted jury selection in the case to allow time for Roof to undergo a competency evaluation. Roof was ruled competent to stand trial, represent himself and be sentenced. (In January, Roof became the first person to receive the death penalty for a federal hate crime. He pleaded guilty to a slew of state charges last month.)

Gergel also allowed journalists to view four videos, captured in November and January, but would not permit the footage to be publicly released. CNN's reporter is expected to finish viewing the videos early Tuesday afternoon. It's not clear what the tapes contain.

Some of the information about Roof's mental state was contained in a December document, released in February, that showed defense attorneys sought special accommodations for their client after competency hearings indicated Roof suffered from a range of disorders.

'A very anxious man'

But the documents released this week go deeper and also delve into his childhood, which was marked by normal maladies such as colds, fevers, sore throats and the like.

As a teen, however, Roof visited a family doctor who called him "a very anxious man."

In 2009, as Roof was entering high school at age 13, his mother took him to Lexington County Community Mental Health Center because he was defying her, using drugs, skipping school and engaging in "oppositional behavior." His mother told a doctor that at school, Roof's As had become Fs, according to court documents.

He also experienced anxiety in social situations, with one report saying that he "worries about it all the time" and at one point threatened to run away and kill himself because his mother had made him go to school. He later told his mom the threat was a bluff.

The report suggests Roof self-medicated with drugs and alcohol. He told doctors he had no intention of quitting his use of marijuana, the documents say. Roof was prescribed an antidepressant.

Roof maintains he doesn't need care

Psychological and medical records from the county jail where he was held after the church massacre show Roof was removed from suicide watch in August 2015, two months after the killings.

He spent most of his time in his room sitting or lying on his cot, only coming out when "he had something to do," according to jail logs. A jail counselor reported that Roof was "doing well in general" and had stated he didn't need mental health care.

During his federal trial, Roof requested that the judge reinstate his legal team for the guilt phase of the trial. He asked to represent himself again during sentencing.

"There's nothing wrong with me psychologically," Roof told jurors ahead of sentencing. "Anything you heard from my lawyers in the last phase, I ask you to forget it."

Source: CNN, May 16, 2017

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