Opening arguments are expected to get under way next week in the federal death penalty trial of Dylann Roof who is charged with the murders of nine members of Charleston’s Emanuel A.M.E. church. Jury selection will wrap up Friday as a pool of hundreds of jurors have been picked by prosecutors and Roof, who is representing himself in court.
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 Mother Emanuel. 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 federal trial precedes a state trial that will be undertaken later on similar charges, in which prosecutors also say they will pursue the death penalty.
Roof confessed to committing the June 17, 2015 shooting to incite a “race war,” while attending a bible study at the church. Among the nine people he killed was senior pastor and South Carolina state senator Clementa C. Pinkney. He also injured one other person. Roof was captured and charged on the morning after the attack.
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.”
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel, who will be presiding over the case 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.”