Dylann Roof and defense attorney David Bruck seem at odds as Roof continues to sideline his defense team
Standby defense attorney David Bruck gave voice to his frustrations in court Thursday. With the sentencing phase underway in the federal trial of Dylann Roof, the esteemed capital attorney has found himself effectively sidelined by Roof’s continued insistence upon representing himself in court.
The 22-year-old white supremacist refused to apologize for his crimes during his brief opening statement during which he called on the jury to forget any efforts made by his attorneys to introduce the notion that Roof is mentally ill.
The first two days of testimony in the sentencing phase have focused on the personal narratives of the victims provided by their family members and loved ones. Denise Quarles was the first witness to take the stand Thursday, offering up recollections of her late mother, Myra Thompson. Quarles described her mother as dotting and supportive. After Thompson realized her young daughter’s blossoming interest in computers, she was sure to place her in after-school program to develop her talents. One Christmas, Quarles recalls her parents scraping together enough money to buy her a new computer. That childhood interest eventually grew into a career, as she now works in information technology. Quarles credits her mother’s support with shaping more than her professional life, but who she is as a person — making Thompson’s death all the more painful.
“She taught me what being a woman is, how to be a mom, how to be a grandparent, how to be a friend, how to treat people,” Quarles said the heartache began to register in her voice. “And for her to die welcoming a stranger into her church, where I was baptized, where she was married ... It pisses me off.”
As Quarles stepped down from the stand, Roof took to his feet and asked U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel if he might be able to introduce a motion. Roof has remained mostly silent during witness testimony, passing on every opportunity for cross-examination. The previous day’s proceedings concluded with Roof’s first objection, a successful effort to dismiss two pieces of evidence. Judge Gergel then cautioned prosecutors to be more efficient with the testimony they choose to submit, citing the 38-person witness list they presented to the court.
Gergel continued to criticize the expected number of witnesses and length of testimony Thursday, advising the prosecution to perhaps rethink their strategy. It was at this point that Bruck took to his feet to declare a complete lack of confidence in Roof’s ability to introduce objections and “protect his own rights.” In Bruck’s opinion, the testimony presented by the victim’s families had turned the court proceedings into a “runaway train” and called on Gergel to allow him to object on Roof’s behalf or have written testimony presented in advance of witnesses taking the stand.
“This is his sentencing, not a memorial service,” Bruck told the judge.
Gergel eventually dismissed Bruck’s argument and reminded the attorney that he had made ever effort to persuade Roof not to represent himself in court. The judge’s decision came after a response from federal attorneys, who stated that they would likely not be calling all 38 witnesses to the stand, but continued to insist upon their right to address the court.
“[Roof] is the one who chose to kill nine people ... particularly good people,” said U.S. assistant attorney Jay Richardson, adding that the families of the victims “are entitled to tell the jury about it.”