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Dylann Roof appearing in court in July 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina. Photo: Grace Beahm-Pool/Getty Images

A federal appeals court upheld the convictions and death sentence for Dylann Roof, who was found guilty of murder for killing nine members of a Black church congregation in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015, according to AP.

Why it matters: The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals three-judge panel's ruling sustains the first death sentence for a federal hate crime, but it is unknown if Roof will be executed after Attorney General Merrick Garland ordered a moratorium on the death penalty in July.

Roof's attorneys argued in the appeal that he was wrongly allowed to represent himself during sentencing and prevented jurors from hearing evidence about his mental health, according to AP.

  • His attorneys asked that his convictions and death sentence should be vacated or his case should be sent back to court so a jury can hear evidence regarding his mental impairments.
  • The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges ruled the trial judge was right to find Roof was competent to stand trial during sentencing.
    • “No cold record or careful parsing of statutes and precedents can capture the full horror of what Roof did. His crimes qualify him for the harshest penalty that a just society can impose,” the panel wrote in its ruling.

Flashback: In 2017, Roof was sentenced to nine life sentences, one for each worshipper at Mother Emanuel AME Church that he shot dead. He was also sentenced to death on federal hate crime charges because he had purposefully targeted Black victims.

The big picture: Though Roof's sentence was upheld, all federal executions have been halted while the Department of Justice reviews its death penalty policies and procedures.

  • Garland said in July that "serious concerns" have been raised about the use of the death penalty, "including arbitrariness in its application, disparate impact on people of color, and the troubling number of exonerations in capital and other serious cases."

What's next: Roof can ask the full 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider the panel's ruling, petition the Supreme Court or seek a presidential pardon, according to AP.

Go deeper

Texas urges Supreme Court to leave abortion ban in place

Photo: Emily Elconin/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Texas on Thursday asked the Supreme Court to keep in place a law that bans abortions after an embryo's cardiac activity is detected, which can be as soon as six weeks and before many people know they are pregnant.

Driving the news: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is asking the high court to ignore the Justice Department's emergency request that they temporarily block the law while federal courts consider its constitutionality since it "lacks standing because it has not been injured by SB 8."

Supreme Court agrees to hear challenges to Texas abortion law

Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear two cases challenging Texas' abortion law, which bans the procedure as soon as six weeks into pregnancy, but left the law in place in the meantime.

Why it matters: The court is moving extraordinarily fast on the Texas cases, compressing into just a few days a process that normally takes months. And that schedule means the court will take up Texas' ban a month before it hears another major abortion case — a challenge to Mississippi's own 2018 ban on abortions after 15 weeks.

U.S. border cities again see low violent crime rates

Expand chart
Data: FBI, Kansas Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Census Bureau; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Reported violent crime in the United States rose in 2020 for the first time in four years, but violent crime rates in 11 of the largest communities along the U.S.-Mexico border stayed below the national average, an Axios analysis found. 

Why it matters: Year after year, data showing low violent crime rates in majority-Mexican American and Mexican immigrant border communities dispels myths of the U.S.-Mexico border as a region filled with crime and chaos.

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