Judge rules competency hearing for Dylann Roof will not be open to public, delays jury selection

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The judge in the federal trial against the man charged in the deaths of nine people at a Charleston church says an upcoming competency hearing will not be open to the public and delayed jury selection again.

In an order issued Wednesday, Judge Richard Gergel said Dylann Roof's Sixth Amendment rights to a fair trial and a fair and impartial jury require the closure of the competency hearing set, which has now been pushed to Monday. That was the date jury selection was slated to resume; jury selection will now resume on Nov. 28, he said.

Roof faces 33 federal charges in the shooting deaths of nine parishioners at Mother Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015.

Gergel said the court has now received the examiner's report on Roof's competency to stand trial, adding the report relies "extensively upon his interviews with Defendant."

Gergel's order states the findings and the factual basis of the findings will likely be discussed extensively during the hearing, and that some of the admissibility of such evidence has not yet been decided on by the court.

"Under these circumstances, the Court finds it wholly impractical to conduct a proper competency hearing in this manner without running the substantial risk of disclosing information that would prejudice Defendant's right to a fair trial and an impartial jury," Gergel's order states.

Gergel said there is "a substantial probability" that Roof's right to a fair trial and an impartial jury would be prejudiced if the hearing were to be held in public and that closing it would prevent this prejudice. Gergel rejected a government suggestion that the jury selection process and orders from the judge to potential jurors not to watch any media coverage of the contents of an open hearing would not be enough to guarantee Roof a fair trial or impartial jury.

Jury selection was to have begun on Nov. 7, but Gergel stopped the proceedings stating a last-minute motion required his immediate attention. After a motion hearing that was closed to both federal prosecutors and the public, Gergel said jury selection would resume two days later. However, the following day, Gergel said Roof was undergoing a competency evaluation and jury selection would resume after the court received the results of the evaluation and had time to rule on it.

Jury selection was to have resumed on Monday, but the competency hearing will now begin at that time. Gergel said interested party may file objections to a closed hearing by Thursday at 1 p.m.

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