Dylann Roof appeared in court Monday morning as jury selection began for his federal trial. Facing the possibility of execution or life in prison without the possibility of release for the June 2015 shootings at Emanuel AME Church that left nine parishioners dead, Roof sat facing the first wave of potential jurors, flanked on either side by his attorneys. Dressed in a striped prison jumpsuit, his eyes remained down, focused on his hands in his lap, only occasionally looking upward at the men and women who may decide his fate.
Throughout the week, potential jurors will be brought into the federal courtroom in downtown Charleston in groups of 80 at a time until the approximately 3,000 residents from the Lowcountry region are thinned out to 700. Beginning the first round of preliminary questioning Monday morning, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel welcomed the prospective jurors, acknowledging that while their participation in a trial likely to stretch into the new year may feel like a burden, it is also their duty as citizens.
Gergel said that although it is difficult to predict exactly how long the trial could last, the final stages of jury selection are expected to continue through much of November, with opening arguments and testimonies commencing in late November or early December. Those participating in the trial can expect a brief break during the Thanksgiving holiday. Depending on the length of the trial, Gergel said proceedings will also be suspended during the Christmas holiday and resume after the start of the new year.
During the first round of questioning Monday morning, four jurors were excused for reasons including career obligations and responsibilities caring for others before the remaining group was escorted out of the courtroom to complete a more specific case questionnaire. The judge said that he would not sequester those who make it into the final jury, but advised them not to speak about the case with anyone outside of the trial or conduct their own independent research — adding that jurors will be provided all the information they need to determine the outcome of the case within the walls of the courtroom.
Roof’s federal trial is set to begin Nov. 7 in downtown Charleston with individual juror questioning.