Judge to weigh South Carolina church gunman's competency

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[January 02, 2017]  By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - A judge will hold a hearing on Monday to determine if Dylann Roof is mentally fit to serve as his own lawyer after saying he would not defend himself against the death penalty at his federal trial for the 2015 massacre at a South Carolina church.

The 22-year-old avowed white supremacist's standby lawyers filed a motion arguing that Roof was not competent to stand trial or represent himself after he revealed at a hearing last week that he would present no evidence or witnesses during the sentencing phase of the federal proceedings.

His announcement raised "in especially stark fashion the question of whether the defendant is actually unable to defend himself," the lawyers said in a court filing. "At a minimum, it suggests that he may lack the mental capacity to assume the role of his own lawyer."

Roof was found guilty last month of 33 counts of federal hate crimes resulting in death, obstruction of religion and firearms violations stemming from the shooting of nine black parishioners attending a Bible study at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

A team led by prominent capital defense lawyer David Bruck represented Roof during the guilt phase of the trial.

Roof has opted to represent himself for the sentencing phase, due to begin on Tuesday, and has sought to keep jurors from hearing evidence about his competency and mental health.

At the standby lawyers' urging, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ordered a psychiatric examination of Roof and set the competency hearing for Monday, a federal holiday.

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Police lead suspected shooter Dylann Roof into the courthouse in Shelby, North Carolina, U.S., June 18, 2015. REUTERS/Jason Miczek

Gergel refused the defense team's request to delay the competency hearing by a week to allow more time to prepare.

The judge previously found Roof competent to stand trial after a hearing held in November ahead of the guilt phase.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Toni Reinhold)

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