June 20, 2015
Dylann Roof made it clear he did not like black people, when he unleashed hell killing nine innocent worshippers in a Charleston AME church. While it remains unclear why a person would have such hatred for another human being simply because of skin color, the killing is a reminder of the risk associated with the lack of political will in Washington and the failure to pass reasonable gun laws in America.
Since committing one of the worst murders in the country, Roof has shown no remorse for the victims making some to ask whether the 21-year-old, is suffering from a disease of the mind, which perhaps is the reason he perpetrated the gruesome homicides. Despite his confession and clear evidence indicating that he killed the victims, there is ongoing debate among legal experts on whether an insanity defense is possible in this case.
In a criminal case of this kind, the issue of insanity is relevant and important. The first question is to determine whether at the time of the alleged crime the defendant is of sound mind and mental capacity to appreciate his act. If his mental ability is of such character and degree as to negative criminal responsibility, such a determination will entitle him to an acquittal.
Based on available evidence since the killings, it is without doubt that Roof qualified for a First Degree murder charge. There exists the intent element required for murder, it is also indisputable that he premeditated and deliberated the homicides, considering his actions before and after the fact.
By his own statement, Roof expressed the desire to kill black people and start a race war. He did in fact, followed up on the statement by leaving his home armed and walking into a church killing not just one but nine people, a move enough to satisfy the requisite intent to kill.
On the other hand, evidence shows that before the homicides, Roof received $400 as birthday present from his dad. As part of his plan to kill, he went and purchased a gun with the money. At that point he had the opportunity to call off the killings but instead, he proceeded to the church armed with the gun and then used it to satisfy his intent. These actions satisfy the element of premeditation required for a murder conviction.
According to reports, Roof sat among the congregation for an hour, before the brutal killings. He had the opportunity and enough time to cool off and abort his plans but instead, he shot the victims and reloaded couple of time, while he was able to deliberate his actions. This satisfies the need for deliberation necessary to find him guilty of murder.
As for the issue of insanity defense, the nature and extent of mental disorder that will entitle a defendant to an acquittal based on insanity, has become a problem for debate in criminal law. The question is not whether the defendant was once of sound mind, which has deteriorated due to a disease or mental defect acquired, the sole determinant is the nature and extent of defendant’s mental infirmity.
So far, there is no known medical record showing Roof has a mental disorder or that he is insane. If there exists such infirmity of the mind, his defense team would need to establish that at the time and moment he carried out the killings, Roof did in fact, suffered from a disease of the mind. In other words, that he was insane the moment he began to unload his weapon on the victims.
The best test for insanity and one used in homicide cases to determine the state of mind of the accused is the M’Naghten rule, known as the M’Naghten test for insanity. The rule is that a defendant is not entitled to the insanity defense, unless when he committed the crime, he was suffering from a defect of reason, from disease of the mind, as not to know the nature and quality of what he was doing or, if he did know it, that he did not know he was doing what was wrong. (See M’Naghten case, 8 Eng.Rep. 718, 10 Cl. & amp; Fin. 200).
Unless there is strong evidence including valid medical records, it is unlikely that Roof has the defense of insanity. Facts will show that he knew what he was doing, when he killed the victims. No reasonable jury would acquit considering the overwhelming evidence and even in a Bench Trial by a Judge, the likelihood of finding acquittal based on insanity is remote.
The best a reasonable defense team can hope for in this case is to secure a life sentence without possibility of parole. At least, that would spare Roof the death penalty, find some justice for the victims’ family though, the punishment would not mend the irreparable pain caused by the accused killer.