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Charleston Shooter Dylann Roof’s Trial Begins

A lawyer for the White man accused of killing nine Black people at a Charleston church is not disputing that his client committed the heinous crimes.

But Attorney David Bruck told jurors Wednesday that they should pay attention to the little things and use their common sense to try and figure out what made Dylann Roof hate Black people so much.

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.

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.”

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.

Bruck says he may not call any witnesses during the guilt or innocence phase of the death penalty trial because there is little question Roof committed the slayings.

The second part of the trial is the penalty phase. Bruck tried to hint at reasons why Roof shouldn’t be put to death, but prosecutors loudly objected, saying that was for the penalty phase. The judge agreed.