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Legal expert explains Dylann Roof's request to have attorneys again

Source: PACER Court Documents Source: PACER Court Documents
CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) -

On Sunday, accused Mother Emanuel AME Church shooter Dylann Roof asked a judge if he could have his defense attorneys back through the guilt phase of his federal trial.

The request came through a handwritten letter to U.S. District Court Judge, Richard Gergel. This comes after Roof was granted permission from the judge to represent himself, a constitutional right. 

A local legal expert says requests like this don't happen often.

Professor of law at the Charleston School of Law, Miller Shealy, says he believes the judge will approve Roof's request to bring back his defense team. 

"I suspect that he's going to give a stern warning to Mr. Roof that he needs to make a choice," Shealy said.  "We are not going to go back and forth for weeks, one day the attorneys the next day Dylann Roof, it's one or the other."

A death penalty trial has two parts: a guilt phase and sentencing phase.

The first is the guilt phase where the jury will determine if Roof is guilty or innocent. If ruled guilty, next would come the sentencing phase. Jurors will decide if he'll get the death penalty or life in prison. 

Roof wants to represent himself for the sentencing phase.

"There are a number of reasons why he might want to do it, first of all he may disagree with the strategy being used by his defense attorneys," Shealy said.

Shealy says with his involvement in death penalty cases the defense is usually some form of mental illness or family circumstance. 

"A lot of defendants in these kinds of cases they flee from this," Shealy said. "It damages their ego it hurts them to hear people say you have a mental problem it hurts them to say you had a bad family upbringing."

It will be Judge Gergel's decision to decide whether or not he will allow Roof's attorney to represent him. The answer should come this week. 

"The judge wants the trial to run smoothly he wants the court proceedings to be followed," Shealy said. "The defense attorneys can do that better than Dylann Roof."

Professor Shealy warns that switching representation back and forth like this can slow down court proceedings. He says we could expect another hearing on this matter as the judge sorts this out, but we will have to wait and see what happens.

Copyright 2016 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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