Charleston church shooting trial set to begin next week
Updated 1:36 pm, Thursday, December 1, 2016
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The long-awaited federal death penalty trial of the white man charged with the shooting deaths of nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church is scheduled to get underway next week with the final seating of a jury.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled Thursday that he anticipates the jury of 12 members and six alternates who will hear the case against Dylann Roof will be selected next Wednesday in Charleston. After that process is completed, opening statements can begin.
Roof, 22, faces dozens of federal charges, including hate crimes and obstruction of the practice of religion, in connection with the June 2015 slayings at Emanuel AME Church. He is representing himself in his federal trial and has previously offered to plead guilty if prosecutors drop their pursuit of the death penalty.
The jury selection process has been ongoing this week with the qualification of a pool of 70 potential jurors. Provided that process wraps up as anticipated on Friday, the judge said that he will hold a pretrial conference on Monday.
There will be no court on Tuesday. Gergel granted Roof's request for an additional day to prepare for trial.
While Roof is acting as his own lawyer, his former defense team is staying on as legal advisers. In a motion filed Thursday, those attorneys argue the court is hampering Roof's defense by not allowing them to play a larger role.
"It should be apparent to everyone observing these one-sided proceedings that despite the defendant's best efforts, there is much being left unaddressed as jury selection proceeds," wrote the team, headed by capital defender David Bruck. "The Court's refusal to exercise the discretion granted it by the Supreme Court to provide the defendant reasonable, limited assistance from standby counsel is therefore thwarting rather than promoting justice."
Gergel has repeatedly told Roof and his advisers that he wants the defendant himself, not the legal team, to address him in court. In an order filed Wednesday, the judge explained his rationale for allowing Roof to act as his own attorney, saying the defendant was highly intelligent and understood the consequences of his decision, which Gergel called "very unwise."
"Defendant's decision to forego (sic) the services of the nation's foremost capital defense attorneys is, in the Court's view, unwise, but the law does not permit the Court to reject Defendant's assertion of his constitutional right to represent himself because it is foolhardy," the judge wrote.