Following questions from reporters regarding the makeup of the 3,000 potential jurors who received a summons in the federal trial of Dylann Roof, the court has released a demographic breakdown of the jury pool.
Of those called to possibly participate in the capital case stemming from the June 2015 shootings at Emanuel AME Church that left nine black parishioners dead, 23 percent are African-American, while 73 percent are white. The jury pool for this trial extends across eight Lowcountry counties, including Jasper, Hampton, Beaufort, Colleton, Dorchester, Charleston, Berkeley, and Georgetown. As reflected in the jury pool demographics, the population of this district is predominantly white (69 percent, according to the most recent U.S. Census estimates), with just over 27 percent of residents identified as African-American.
Of the demographics represented in the jury pool, the largest group consists of white women, who account for slightly more than one-third of prospective jurors, followed by white men (30 percent) and black women (13 percent). The initial stage of jury selection in Roof’s trial is expected to finish this week as those summoned to court in downtown Charleston complete a case-specific questionnaire. Those who make it through the first stage of the process will undergo individual questioning beginning Nov. 7 until a final panel of 12 jurors and six alternates is selected.
In a previously filed motion by Roof’s defense team, attorneys called on the court to strike the death penalty as a possible punishment in the case, stating that Roof would plead guilty on all charges if offered a sentence of life in jail without the possibility of release. In that motion, the defense argued against including a “death qualification” during jury selection, which would exclude those who object to the death penalty as a form of punishment. Roof’s attorneys claimed that removing candidates on such grounds would “increase the influence of racism and sexism on the death determination,” citing a 2005 report and polling data that found that “capital juries are more likely to be white, older, predominantly male, Protestant, and less educated than other criminal juries, than the society from which they were picked.”
A 2015 Gallup survey found that about six in 10 Americans favor the death penalty for those convicted of murder, but support has been on a gradual decline since 1994. African-Americans were found to be far less likely to support execution compared to white respondents by a margin of almost 30 percent. A 2013 survey by Gallup also revealed that men are almost 10 percent more likely to support the death penalty than women.
In their list of expert witnesses expected to provide testimony during the trial, prosecutors include two experts in the area of white supremacy extremism. Attorneys say these experts will testify that Roof’s alleged actions, statements, and clothing are consistent with the adoption of white supremacist beliefs through self-radicalization and race-based violent crimes.
In response to the defense’s motion, federal prosecutors argued that the studies cited do “nothing to show that women and racial minorities are excluded because of their membership in a protected class versus having an opinion on the death penalty that prevents or substantially impairs their ability to follow the law.”
They added, “Nor has he presented any evidence to suggest that women and minorities would be disproportionately excluded given the demographics of the [jury pool] and the facts of the particular case.”