ATLANTA, Nov 29 — A federal judge yesterday granted Dylann S. Roof’s request to represent himself in his hate crimes trial on charges of killing nine African-American parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, raising the unsettling specter that the avowed white supremacist could cross-examine survivors and family members of the deceased.
Death penalty experts predicted that Roof, by controlling his own case, may decline to present evidence of his own mental instability that his highly regarded defense team would probably have emphasized in both the guilt and penalty phases of the trial.
Federal prosecutors are seeking to execute Roof, who has offered to plead guilty to the 33 charges against him in exchange for a life sentence.
Jury selection in Roof’s trial had been delayed for three weeks after his lawyers petitioned Judge Richard M. Gergel of US District Court in Charleston to declare him incompetent to stand trial.
A two-day hearing on that question was closed and related court filings have been sealed, but it now seems that their request related to Roof’s desire to represent himself.
On Friday, having studied a court-ordered psychiatric evaluation and heard testimony from other witnesses, Gergel ruled that Roof was competent.
Yesterday, as jury selection was about to begin, Roof asked the judge for permission to serve as his own lawyer.
According to a report in the Charleston newspaper The Post and Courier, Gergel advised Roof against doing so, noting the expertise of a legal team led by noted capital defence lawyer David I. Bruck.
But having declared Roof competent, he said the defendant had the right to self-representation.
The newspaper reported that Roof smiled slightly as he returned to the defense table, where Bruck moved over to give Roof his seat. Bruck and other members of his team will now serve as “standby counsel,” sitting with and advising Roof.
Gergel, Roof and the prosecutors then began the process of winnowing a pool of 512 people down to 12 jurors and six alternates.
That process was expected to last several weeks. — The New York Times