Charleston County Sheriff's Office
Attorneys for Dylann Roof looked on Monday as the accused Emanuel AME Church shooter was allowed to represent himself in his federal death penalty trial.
The decision comes just days after U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel deemed Roof fit to stand trial following a court-ordered mental evaluation that delayed jury selection by several weeks. According to Gergel, the man accused of killing nine black parishioners during Bible study in June 2015 has the right to represent himself, although the judge deemed the decision “unwise.”
Wearing a gray-and-white striped prison jumpsuit, Roof looked on as potential jurors cycled in and out of the courtroom. Gergel led questioning, asking each candidate his or her feelings regarding the case, its racial component, and their thoughts regarding the death penalty.
Asked whether she had been exposed to any news articles related to the case since completing a questionnaire related to the trial, one potential juror replied, “I’ve seen headlines. I’ve tried not to read anything.”
Asked whether or not that momentary glance would affect her ability to be a fair and impartial juror, the woman responded that it would not. Asked if the race of the victims or race of the defendant would affect her ability to serve on the jury, the woman again swore that she could remain fair and impartial.
Gergel then excused the potential juror and asked attorneys for the prosecution if they had any reason to exclude her from the pool. They had no objections. The judge then offered the same opportunity to Roof, who leaned forward toward the microphone at the defense table and in a low mumble said, “No questions. No motions.”
The next potential juror was called to the stand. Citing an answer the potential juror had provided on the case-specific questionnaire, Gergel asked the woman about what she had written: “I’m sickened at the thought that someone could go into a church and murder people.”
The woman told the judge that she likes to think of herself as a person who could remove herself emotionally from the circumstances of the trial, but “It’s hard to take steps back from that ... I’m getting the chills right now thinking of someone doing that.”
Gergel excused the woman before announcing his desire to exclude the woman from serving on the jury due to her response. The prosecution opposed the judge’s decision to strike the potential juror, saying that she was merely being honest and acknowledging that this is an emotional case for all those involved. Gergel once again turned to Roof and asked if he objected to removing this particular juror from serving in the trial. He again leaned forward and answered no before scratching the juror’s number from the papers stacked in front of him.
Roof faces a 33-count federal indictment that includes hate crime charges. If found guilty, he faces the possibility of execution or life in prison without the possibility of release.
The questioning of potential jurors will continue until a group of 70 individuals is qualified. A final jury will be chosen from that group.