The accused Charleston church shooter had a troubled past even before he was arrested for killing nine people at Emanuel AME Church in June 2015.
USA TODAY NETWORK
The shooter convicted earlier this month of killing nine people in a Charleston, S.C., church will undergo a second hearing to determine if he is competent to stand trial, this one just ahead of a sentencing where jurors will decide whether he should die or receive life in prison.
Standby counsel for Dylann Roof, 22, filed a motion under seal Thursday asking Judge Richard Gergel of U.S. District Court in Charleston determine whether the defendant is competent to proceed with the sentencing phase. Gergel granted that motion and scheduled the competency hearing for Monday, a federal holiday, with jurors expected to reconvene for the sentencing phase Tuesday.
The motion came one day after a hearing in which Roof again said he would represent himself during the sentencing. He told the court he planned to offer an opening statement but will not call witnesses or submit evidence in his defense.
Earlier this month, a federal jury in Charleston found the admitted white supremacist guilty of 33 federal counts, many of them related to hate crimes and obstruction of religion, in the June 2015 attack at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the nation’s oldest historically black houses of worship. All nine parishioners killed were black.
Jury selection was to begin in November but was postponed after Roof’s defense team asked for a competency evaluation of the defendant, one requested against Roof’s wishes and after he had asked to represent himself in court.
Following two days of closed-door testimony, Gergel found Roof could understand the nature of the trial as well as its consequences and allowed the case to proceed with Roof representing himself
Through jury selection, Roof served as his own attorney but requested that his defense team once again represent him during the trial itself.
With sentencing set to begin in five days, Roof again has dismissed the lawyers, a move that prevents them from submitting evidence that he suffers from a mental defect. Evaluations and testimony from mental health experts in the sentencing phase often are considered key factors that might persuade jurors to vote for a life sentence over execution.
In court filings, Roof has indicated he will not call mental health experts, reversing a course his lawyers had planned earlier.
That Roof, as a capital defendant, has elected to represent himself is an unusual but not an unheard of move. Defendants sometimes employ the strategy because they believe they are of sound mind while their counsel sees otherwise, mental health experts say.
At Gergel’s discretion, records of the initial competency hearing, which remain closed, could become public after the trial is complete. Roof told the judge in Wednesday’s hearing that he sees release of those documents as problematic.
Roof said he is serving as his own attorney to keep evidence like that presented in the competency hearing out of the public domain.
Gergel responded that he still is weighing the issue, complicated by a state death-penalty trial expected in January, but once proceedings have concluded, the public likely will have a right to know.
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