U.S. judge rules South Carolina church
gunman can act as own lawyer
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[January 03, 2017]
By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - A U.S. judge
on Monday ruled Dylann Roof was mentally fit to serve as his own lawyer
in the penalty phase of his trial, when a jury will decide whether to
sentence him to be executed for the 2015 massacre at a South Carolina
Roof, 22, an avowed white supremacist, was found guilty in December on
all federal charges in the shooting deaths of nine black parishioners at
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina in 2015.
The shooting where Roof had waited for members of a Bible study group to
close their eyes in prayer before opening fire sent shockwaves across
the United States.
The same jury that convicted him of 33 charges that included hate crimes
resulting in death will meet on Wednesday for the penalty phase, where
they will decide whether he should be executed.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel issued his ruling after hearing
testimony from forensic psychiatrist James Ballenger, who examined Roof
for five hours over the weekend.
Gergel had kept the competency hearing closed in order to avoid
sequestering the jury.
Gergel said he was concerned jurors would inadvertently hear potentially
prejudicial information from the hearing if reporters were allowed to
cover it, ruling that protecting Roof's right to a fair trial outweighed
the media's right to view the hearing.
The judge rejected arguments from press attorney Jay Bender and
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson, who wanted an open hearing.
Gergel also banned relatives of the victims from attending.
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South Carolina church massacre shooting suspect Dylann Roof is seen
in U.S. District Court of South Carolina evidence photo which was
originally taken from Roof's website. Courtesy U.S. District Court
of South Carolina/Handout via REUTERS
The judge previously found Roof competent to stand trial after a
hearing held in November ahead of the guilt phase. Roof represented
himself during one week of jury selection in November during which
prominent capital defense lawyer David Bruck was appointed standby
That same defense team filed a motion ahead of the penalty phase
arguing that Roof was not competent to represent himself after he
revealed at a hearing last week that he would not present any
evidence or witnesses.
(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Tom
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