Dylann Roof: White supremacist launched death row hunger strike then gave up

Associated Press reporters, Oliver O'Connell
Dylann Roof was found guilty of 33 offences including nine counts of murder after he opened fire at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina on 17 June 2015: Getty Images

White supremacist mass murderer Dylann Roof spent part of this month on hunger strike while on death row, alleging that he is being “verbally harassed and abused without cause”.

He has since abandoned his protest, although he claims he could have lasted longer.

Roof killed nine black church members during a Bible study class in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

In letters to the Associated Press he says hat he has been “targetted by staff” and “treated disproportionately harsh”.

He told the AP in a letter dated 13 February, that staff at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, feel justified in their conduct “since I am hated by the general public”.

A source familiar with the matter confirmed that the hunger strike is now over, but they could not tell the AP how long it had lasted, nor whether medical intervention was needed.

Roof’s letter indicated that he was “several days” into the hunger strike, and a follow up letter dated 16 February said that it had ended a day later, after corrections officers forcibly tried to take his blood and insert an intravenous drop into his arm. This caused him to briefly pass out.

“I feel confident I could have gone much, much longer without food,” he wrote in the follow-up letter. “It's just not worth being murdered over.”

Roof says that he originally went on the hunger strike to protest against the treatment he received from a Bureau of Prisons (BOP) disciplinary hearing officer over earlier complaints that he was refused access to the law library and to a copying machine to file legal papers.

A spokesperson for the BOP said the agency had no comment on Roof´s allegations. His lawyers said in a statement that they were “working with BOP to resolve the issues addressed in the letters”.

His lawyers have also filed an appeal to his federal convictions and death sentence. They argue that he was mentally ill when he represented himself at his capital trial.

Their main argument is that US District Judge Richard Gergel should not have allowed Roof to represent himself during the penalty phase of his trial because he was a 22-year-old ninth-grade dropout “who believed his sentence didn't matter because white nationalists would free him from prison after an impending race war”.

Roof is the first person to be ordered executed for a federal hate crime.

Attorney General William Barr announced a resumption of federal executions in July 2019, though the Supreme Court halted them after some of the initial group of inmates challenged the new execution procedures in court. Roof is not part of that initial group.

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