CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The first panel of prospective jurors in the federal death penalty case against suspected church shooter Dylann Roof appeared before a judge Monday morning.
The first group of 80 prospective jurors was almost 90 percent white with only nine black jurors, six of them women and three of them men. The panel remained somber in demeanor during their appearance. The second panel was more racially diverse. Black residents made up closer to 22 percent of that group.
Roof faces 33 federal charges for the killings of nine parishioners at Mother Emanuel AME Church in June 2015 and was present in the courtroom.
Before each panel of about 80 prospective jurors entered the courtroom, Roof chatted with his attorneys at the defense table, even smiling and glancing around the courtroom. But once the potential jurors entered, he stared emotionless at his lap, peering up only a few times throughout the morning. He sat directly facing each panel.
For the first panel, Roof wore a standard bluish-grey jail uniform. After that, he wore a dark blue cable-knit sweater with gray slacks.
The first panel's questioning was completed by 10 a.m.
When United States District Judge Richard Gergel finished talking with the first panel, the group rose and filed past Roof's defense table to exit the room, which brought them within about six feet of him. Roof made no eye contact, continuing to stare down with a flat expression, although many of the jurors looked over at him as they passed.
From the second panel on, court staff led prospective jurors out a back door of the courtroom to fill out questionnaires.
Gergel will read the same script to each group, asking simple questions, including whether any prior conflict might prevent them from being able to serve as a juror in the case. Those who say they will not be available are being excused.
Gergel deferred two white teachers' service to another term of court. He also excused one white man who cared for a spouse with a severe health ailment and excused one black man who said service would be highly detrimental to his business.
The jurors are being brought before the court in panels of 80 at a time and four panels are expected to be questioned on Monday. While 3,000 have been summoned the prosecution and defense can stop when each feels there enough to whittle the pool down to 12 jurors and six alternates.
The judge warned the jurors not to discuss the case or do their own research about it.
Potential jurors must call in days before the trial begins to learn their selection status.
United States Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the 33 federal charges against Roof in July 2015. He faces nine murder counts and three attempted murder counts under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which prohibits using a dangerous weapon to cause bodily injury or attempting to do so based on race or color, Lynch said.
He is also charged with nine murders and three attempted murders under a second federal hate crime statute that prohibits the use or threat of force to obstruct any person's free exercise of their religious beliefs.
The remaining nine counts are charges of the use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence, the federal indictment states.
The trial is set to begin in November and last through the holiday season.