A request from state prosecutors to advance the start date for the trial of accused Emanuel AME Church shooter Dylann Roof was rejected earlier this week. After attorneys for both sides voiced their concerns over the trial schedule, Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson said he will likely delay the start of jury selection by more than a month. Jury selection for the capital case was previously set to begin Dec. 6 — with opening arguments starting on Jan. 17.
In late June, Ninth Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson requested that Roof’s state trial take place before his federal trial — scheduled for Nov. 7 — arguing that the government is less likely to impose the death penalty and a federal trial would be unnecessary if the defendant is sentenced to death by a state jury. The defense strongly opposed Wilson’s motion to advance the start date of the trial, calling the move “reckless” and “shortsighted.”
Judge Nicholson told the solicitor that he was not going to take up the fight over who goes to trial first, adding, “That’s up to the federal court. If you have a problem with that, go across the street and file a motion.”
Roof’s state trial was originally set to begin in July. That was until Nicholson granted the defense a six-month delay to allow for a complete psychiatric evaluation of their client. Wilson is also serving as the lead prosecutor in the state trial of former North Charleston police officer Michael Slager, who will face trial for the shooting of Walter Scott beginning Oct. 31. Faced with two back-to-back trials, the solicitor told Judge Nicholson that the prosecution would not be prepared for jury selection in Roof’s state trial, which was scheduled to begin in early December. Roof’s attorneys also favored postponing jury selection until January, citing concerns that their client will be unavailable to them during his federal trial.
With more breathing room between trials, Solicitor Wilson remains concerned about the issues of primary custody between the state and the government in Roof’s case and the effect that two trials will have on the families of the victims.