Jury qualification phase wraps up in federal case against Charleston church shooting suspect

VIDEO: Jury qualification ends in federal Charleston church shooting case

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The jury selection phase in the federal trial against accused Emanuel AME Church shooter Dylann Roof was completed Monday shortly before noon.

The court received more than 700 completed questionnaires from prospective jurors, enough, the court says, from which a jury can be chosen.

Dylann Roof faces charges including hate crime in the shooting deaths of nine churchgoers in June 2015.

Roof, wearing khaki pants and a navy blue cable knit sweater, walked into the courtroom at about 8:45 a.m. ahead of the jury panel. He settled into his seat as his attorneys sat on either side of him at the defense table. He stared at his lap for the next hour as approximately 80 prospective jurors filed into the courtroom, sat quietly and waited for the judge to enter.

Of the 9 a.m. panel, approximately 70 percent of the prospective jurors were white. Five panel members expected to attend did not arrive. Six of those who did appear were dismissed from service: two white women were eligible to request dismissal because they were older than 70, two black men one black woman and one white woman were dismissed for medical reasons.

Before the final panel, court officials did a sweep of the room, checking under the two legal teams' chairs and rows of pews where about 80 panel members would sit. Roof entered the courtroom for the final jury selection panel at about 10:45 a.m. and found his seat at the defense table. He cracked open a plastic water bottle on the table, filled up a Styrofoam cup and drank the water. His attorneys walked in shortly afterward and sat on either side of him. Roof didn't glance up from his lap but gave a small grin when they spoke to him. His expression swiftly fell back into a serious, downward stare – a demeanor he'd maintain for the rest of the session.

About 80 panel members filed into the room. A majority were white and a fourth of them were black. They were silent and stared forward with serious expressions.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel entered the courtroom and thanked the prospective jurors for their service. He went on to explain the case, the charges against Roof, and the expected schedule of the trial.

One black man in the third row shook his head as Gergel explained the 33 charges against Roof.

When the judge asked the panel questions to determine if any were exempt from service, only one white woman was dismissed for medical reasons.

After the panel filed out of the room, Roof stood up and immediately headed to the side door that he entered from. Several men followed him, and chains could be heard clinking just before the door shut behind them.

Gergel concluded the hearing by remarking on the speed of the sessions.

"We did this in two and a half days, and that's impressive," Gergel said. "Let's hope the rest of this process is as efficient."

Earlier in the week, court officials said 3,000 jurors have received summonses. Nearly 2,000 jurors were 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 questioning process, jurors sat before Gergel, the suspect, his attorneys, and prosecution in groups of 80. Gergel 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.

The group was 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.

The jury pool doubled from 300 on Monday to nearly 600 Tuesday. Gergel said on Tuesday he believed all 700 will be selected by Wednesday's 11 a.m. session, which turned out to be the case.

Of those hundreds, the jury will be narrowed down to 12 and six alternates.

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