White supremacist Dylann Roof will have a new legal team representing him as he moves to appeal his death sentence for killing nine worshippers at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church in June 2015.
At Roof's request, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel issued an order Thursday relieving the convicted killer's top-flight legal team of further responsibilities once they file his notice of appeal with the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
They will be replaced by federal public defenders from California and Maryland, the order states.
Roof was convicted of all 33 charges he faced and sentenced to death in January. At the close of his trial, he expressed a desire for new representation, saying he didn't trust his current lawyers, led by noted capital defense specialist David Bruck.
Documents unsealed at the close of the case revealed a long-running feud between Roof and his legal team over trial tactics, particularly his lawyers' desire to mount a mental illness defense on his behalf.
Roof had turned irate after realizing his attorneys planned to introduce evidence showing he had a crippling anxiety disorder, depression and autism.
Documents quoted him as saying he wanted to kill Bruck if he ever got out of jail.
In November, Roof penned a letter to prosecutors calling his defense attorneys "the sneakiest group of people I have ever met" and their efforts to portray him as mentally ill "a lie." That letter prompted the first of two psychiatric exams that both concluded he was competent to stand trial. He went on to sideline his lawyers during the trial's penalty phase, and the jury handed him the ultimate punishment for his crimes.
Authorities recently transferred him to an Indiana prison for federal death row inmates.
Gergel's decision to switch out the defense team came one day after the judge denied Roof's motion for a new trial.
Roof and his legal team had argued that his actions didn't constitute interstate commerce — a necessary component for the federal prosecution — because the attack was planned and executed completely within South Carolina. They also argued the charges for which Roof was convicted don't meet the definition of "crimes of violence" necessary under federal law to support death penalty convictions.
In a 31-page ruling, Gergel torpedoed both arguments and refused to throw out Roof’s convictions in favor of a new trial.