Federal officials to assess Roof’s mental health status

Charleston shooting suspect Dylann Storm Roof is escorted from the Cleveland County Courthouse in Shelby, N.C., on June 18, 2015. Federal prosecutors in the case against Roof have pushed back against a defense motion to dismiss the 33 federal indictments against him.

District Judge Richard Gergel granted federal prosecutors’ motion Tuesday requiring accused Emanuel AME Church shooter Dylann Roof to submit to a mental health evaluation by government experts.

The decision comes after Roof’s attorneys confirmed plans to prove he had a “mental disease or defect or any other mental condition,” at the time of the June 2015 shooting in a bid to get a lifetime prison sentence for the 22 year old. His government evaluation is scheduled for no earlier than Sept. 12, according to court documents.

Gergel’s filing comes one day after federal prosecutors pushed back against a defense motion to dismiss the 33 indictments against Roof.

Beth Drake, acting U.S. attorney for South Carolina, and Vanita Gupta, deputy assistant attorney general with the U.S. Department of Justice, responded to a July 5 defense motion, which argued that the charges against Roof should be thrown out because the case should be left to state authorities, and based on the Constitution’s Commerce Clause and the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. The prosecutors denied their case against Roof was unconstitutional and called for the judge to require him to stand trial.

Defense attorney Sarah Gannett stated in the earlier filing that Roof’s actions, such as posting his manifesto on the internet, purchasing a gun and using a highway for travel, were not interstate commerce.

His alleged crimes were “purely local” and confined to South Carolina, Gannett wrote.

Prosecutors disagreed.

“The internet, telephone, GPS, and interstate highways — Defendant used each of these channels and instrumentalities in planning and executing his attack, and each falls squarely within Congress’s Commerce Clause authority,” they wrote in their response.

Roof’s GPS was programmed to get him to Nashville, Tenn., when he was caught in North Carolina, according to court documents.

Prosecutors also allege Roof called Emanuel AME Church on Feb. 23, 2015, and that he used nearly 80 rounds of ammunition that “were produced out of state and have traveled in interstate commerce” during the shooting.

Gannett challenged the constitutionality of the Hate Crime Prevention Act of 2009, saying Congress wrongly used the 13th Amendment when creating law.

Prosecutors countered, saying the defense argument was based on a faulty understanding of police power and of the broad powers granted to Congress under the 13th Amendment “to eliminate such vestiges of slavery as racial violence.”

South Carolina lacks a hate crimes law covering racially motivated violence, federal prosecutors said.

That fact together with the unprecedented, race-motivated nature of the attack provide sufficient basis for federal prosecution.

Roof, who is white, is charged with the counts, most of which are civil rights charges, in the June 2015 killings of nine parishioners at the church. Federal prosecutors allege that he violated the worshippers’ right to practice religion, committed hate crimes by targeting black people and used a firearm in a violent crime.

His federal trial is set for Nov. 7 in U.S. District Court. The state trial is slated for January.

Reach Gregory Yee at 843-937-5908. Follow him on Twitter @GregoryYYee.