CHARLESTON, S.C., Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Former attorneys for Dylann Roof, accused in the 2015 shooting deaths of nine parishioners at a South Carolina church, said allowing the 22-year-old to represent himself in his federal death-penalty trial is unconstitutional and filed a motion to be reinstated Friday.
Lawyers are concerned Roof, who is facing 33 federal charges, may not get proper legal representation while acting as his own attorney and may not present evidence that could spare his life. Attorneys said allowing Roof to act as his own attorney violates the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Unlike other motions filed since Roof took over the case on Monday, he did not sign the court document.
"The defendant has no right to represent himself in a capital trial, and even less so at the penalty phase of such a trial," attorneys said in the court filing. "As an initial matter, this is because the reliability of the most complicated proceeding known to the criminal law ... cannot be assured with an untrained layperson -- in this case, a 22-year-old ninth-grade dropout with a GED -- acting as lead counsel."
On Monday, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel allowed Roof to represent himself in the trial, but cautioned him against it. His attorneys were to act as "stand-by counsel." Roof was declared mentally competent last week to stand trial.
Roof's lawyers said they do not know why Roof wants to represent himself but have speculated he may be trying to avoid embarrassing evidence from coming out or deliberately sabotaging the case.
"A primary function of the Eighth Amendment is to require heightened reliability in the process by which the punishment of death is inflicted," attorneys said in the motion. "This is important to the defendant, who faces the ultimate punishment, and to the community, which requires assurance that the ultimate punishment will be imposed only upon the fair administration of justice."
Roof, a self-avowed white supremacist, is charged with federal hate crimes, obstruction of justice and dozens of other charges in the June 2015 shooting at a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston that killed nine people.