Newly unsealed court documents reveal that white supremacist Dylann Roof had been diagnosed with a variety of mental health issues before he stood trial for killing nine black worshipers at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church.
Psychiatric records from Roof’s two competency hearings remain sealed in the case, but some details about Roof’s mental state can be found tucked away in other filings that U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel ordered released this week.
In early December, for example, defense attorneys asked the judge for certain accommodations to help the 22-year-old killer navigate the trial. In that motion, they reference psychiatric disorders that an independent doctor had diagnosed during an earlier examination.
Dr. James Ballenger, a local forensic psychiatrist, found that Roof showed signs of “Social Anxiety Disorder, a Mixed Substance Abuse Disorder, a Schizoid Personality Disorder, depression by history, and a possible Autistic Spectrum Disorder,” the court filing indicates.
Schizoid personality disorder is not schizophrenia and doesn’t cause the disconnection from reality. Instead, those who suffer from the personality disorder often appear detached and distant and don’t want or enjoy close relationships with others, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
The disorders fit an image of Roof painted during his death penalty trial, that of a loner who developed violent racist ideologies simply by reading white supremacist websites rather than through any real-life interactions. Police also had found Roof in possession of Suboxone, a prescription drug used to treat opiate addiction, just a few months before the Emanuel shooting.
The defense motion also mentions that while Gergel had “denied a defense request for an independent competency evaluation focused on autism, the defense offered evidence of an autism diagnosis by a highly-qualified autism expert at the hearing.”
The competency hearing also included evidence that Roof’s “high IQ is compromised by a significant discrepancy between his ability to comprehend and to process information and a poor working memory,” the motion said.
That competency hearing was held before testimony began in the guilt phase of Roof’s trial. Gergel ruled then that Roof was competent to understand the charges against him and the punishments he faced and could assist his attorneys with his case.
In their motion, defense attorneys argued that accommodations were necessary given Roof’s behavior during earlier jury selection, when Roof acted as his own attorney. The effects of his mental illness include excessive focus on non-essential details, difficulty process multiple simultaneous information sources, trouble shifting between subjects and activities, and an extreme need for predictability and routine, the filing states.
They asked Gergel to provide more breaks, shorter court days, and permission to break as needed when Roof became overwhelmed with the volume of information.
“The accommodations requested here are modest, and they are necessary to ensure a fair trial for the defendant,” the motion said.
Gergel, however, found no merit in the motion and ruled that there was no need to take measures to accommodate Roof’s supposed issues. He noted that Roof spoke at length and in detail on his own behalf after an eight-and-a-half hour proceeding on the second day of the competency hearing.
“The Court has found Defendant mentally competent to stand trial, and, indeed, Defendant was extremely engaged during his two-day competency hearing,” the judged states in his ruling.
Roof was convicted in December of 33 federal offenses stemming from the June 17, 2015 church shooting. He chose to represent himself during the trial’s penalty phase in an effort to block his legal team from introducing evidence about his mental health history. He told the jury that he had no mental illness and nothing to hide. “There’s nothing wrong with me,” he said in his opening statement.
That same jury determined that Roof deserved the death penalty for his crimes. He remains in the Charleston County jail while he awaits his pending state trial on murder charges. He faces a potential death sentence in that proceeding as well.
More than 900 filings were entered into the record during the course of proceedings in Roof’s federal case. Gergel initially sealed hundreds of pages of those records, saying he wanted to guarantee Roof’s right to a fair trial. Now that the trial has ended, the judge has begun unsealing many of those documents. Transcripts and reports generated during the two competency hearings, however, remain under seal.
Attorneys have until March 27 to object to unsealing those and other documents in the case.
Roof wants those records to stay private. Gergel has said he must balance those wishes against the public’s right to know and concerns about how the release of records might impact Roof’s state trial. No date has been set for that proceeding.