Second day of Jury questioning wraps in trial for accused Charleston church shooter

Second day of Jury questioning wraps in trial for accused Charleston church shooter
Source: Robert Maniscalco
Source: Robert Maniscalco
Dylann Roof (Photo Source: Charleston Co. Sheriff's Office)
Dylann Roof (Photo Source: Charleston Co. Sheriff's Office)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The second day of a laborious jury selection process wrapped up Tuesday in the trial against the man accused of killing nine people at Emanuel AME Church.

Dylann Roof, who faces hate crimes and other federal counts in the shooting deaths, barely looked up during Tuesday's four sessions.

The second day nearly doubled the number of prospective jurors, to a total of approximately 600. United States District Judge Richard Gergel said he is confident the court will reach the necessary 700 people from which to pick Roof's jury on Wednesday.

As for Roof himself, there was little change in his demeanor while the jurors, 80 or so at a time, were ushered into the courtroom, given instructions by Gergel, asked if they could serve as a juror and then were ushered out to complete a questionnaire.

Roof was in jail clothes and mostly looked down throughout the proceedings, rarely looking at the people who could be called upon to decide his fate.

Approximately 78 percent of the first group of prospective jurors was white. One member of the jury pool, a middle-aged black man, held a leather-bound Bible as he listened to Gergel warn the group not to do independent research or tell their spouses about the case. Only a single juror was excused from the first panel: an older white woman from Johns Island, told the judge that she could not participate because she runs a business and cares for her husband who uses a wheelchair.

Seventy-five of the 81 summoned to appear at 11 a.m. showed up. Of the 75, about 79 percent were white. The remaining 21 percent were black or were of other minorities. Three of the 75 were excused from service: a white woman who cares for her elderly parents, a white man whose presence is essential to his business and a black woman with a medical condition.

For the 1 p.m. session, 81 were summoned to appear and 76 arrived. Of those 76, the racial background mirrored that of the 11 a.m. panel. Seven from the third panel were excused, including were one white woman who cares for her elderly parents; three white women and two white men whose presence is essential to their businesses; and one white man who is a volunteer firefighter with upcoming training.

For the fourth and final session of the day, all but one of the 82 prospective jurors reported to the courtroom. Of the 81, 78 percent is white. Four people from this group were excused from serving, including a white woman who cares for an elderly adult, a black man, a white man and a second white woman because of a medical condition.

When the judge asked one of the jurors for her juror number, she began rattling off a series of digits. Gergel halted her, pointing out her juror number was the short sequence of numbers written across the sticker on her shirt. While most people in the courtroom laughed or smiled at the gaffe, Roof remained emotionless.

The only time Roof appeared to show any emotion was after the jurors left the room to complete paperwork and defense attorney Kimberly Stevens made a remark to him. A smile wrinkled through his left cheek but quickly disappeared. He shook his head and walked out of the courtroom.

Court officials say 3,000 jurors have received summonses. Nearly 2,000 jurors are reported to be white, around 700 are black and the rest are Asian, Native American or identify as "other." The jurors are from Charleston, Berkeley, Dorchester and five other counties.

Throughout the process, jurors will sit before Gergel, the suspect, his attorneys, and prosecution in groups of 80. 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 will be excused.

The group is expected to be whittled to a pool of 700 jurors who will return to the courthouse in November to be questioned individually by the judge. Gergel believes the group will be selected by Wednesday's 11 a.m. session.

As of the end of Tuesday, a total of 595 questionnaires have been filled out and a total of 32 jurors have been excused.

"I think we've all been pleasantly surprised with the attendance rate," Gergel said. "We're making progress on this. The numbers are higher than expected."

While federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, Roof's attorneys have said he's willing to plead guilty and serve life if the death penalty is taken off the table.

The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Susan Jackson, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Ethel Lance and Myra Thompson were killed on June 17, 2015.

Copyright 2016 WCSC. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press Contributed to this report.