Saturday 17 March 2018

Man accused of church shooting deaths can act as own lawyer

Shooting suspect Dylann Roof is to represent himself (AP)
Shooting suspect Dylann Roof is to represent himself (AP)

The man accused over the shooting deaths of nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church will act as his own lawyer in his federal death penalty trial.

Dylann Roof's request came against his lawyers' advice, and US District Judge Richard Gergel said he would reluctantly accept the 22-year-old's "unwise" decision.

Noted death penalty attorney David Bruck then slid over and let Roof take the lead chair in court. The lawyers can stand by and help Roof if he asks.

Police say Roof hurled racist insults at the six women and three men he is accused of killing and the three people he left alive in the June 2015 attack at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Roof on hate crime, obstruction of religion and other charges.

Beginning on Monday, 516 potential jurors were to report to the courthouse to be individually questioned by the judge.

When 70 qualified jurors are picked, lawyers can use strikes to dismiss those they do not want, until 12 jurors and six alternates are seated.

The judge delayed the process of narrowing the jury pool when Roof's lawyers suggested that their client either did not understand the charges against him or could not properly help with his defence.

The lawyers did not say what led them to question Roof's fitness for trial.

The decision came after Judge Gergel wrapped up a hastily called two-day hearing to determine if Roof is mentally fit to stand trial, hearing testimony from psychologist James Ballenger and four other unnamed witnesses and reviewed sworn statements from three others.

The judge said he took the rare step of closing the hearing to the public and media because Roof made statements to a psychologist that might not be legal to use at his trial and could taint potential jurors.

On Friday, the judge said he refrained from releasing a transcript of the hearing for the same reason, reversing an earlier pledge to release a redacted transcript.

Victims' relatives complained about the secrecy surrounding the proceedings, but Judge Gergel maintains the steps he has taken are to ensure Roof receives a fair trial and that pre-trial exposure does not provide grounds for an appeal.

Roof also has already been found competent in state court, where prosecutors plan a second death penalty trial on nine counts of murder.

According to police, Roof sat through nearly an hour of prayer and Bible study at the church with its pastor and 11 others before pulling a gun from his bag and firing dozens of shots.


Press Association

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