Judge rules Dylann Roof competent to stand trial during sentencing phase

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel has ruled that Dylann Roof is competent to represent himself during the sentencing phase of the trial.

This comes after the second closed-door competency hearing which was held on Monday in which the court heard more than seven hours of testimony.

Over the weekend, Roof underwent a competency evaluation at the detention center at the request of a motion filed by his standby counsel.

Roof's sentencing phase will now start on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. when the jury is expected to hear opening statements from the prosecution and Roof.

The jury will determine if Roof is sentenced to death or life in prison.

Roof was convicted in December on 33 federal charges in the June 17, 2015, shooting that killed nine people at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

The sentencing phase, which is expected to last 10 days, was supposed to start on Tuesday but Roof asked for a one day delay.

According to court documents, Roof asked for the delay because he was required to devote a lot of time to the court examination and competency hearing.

Earlier on Monday, Gergel ruled that the competency hearing would be closed despite 30 minutes of objections, saying having it open would prevent Roof's right to a fair trial if jurors were to see news coverage of the hearing.

But attorney Jay Bender argued on behalf of the media that the hearing should be open so the public is aware of what is happening.

"I think that presumes that the jurors cannot put aside anything that they'd hear outside the courtroom in making their decision, and I think that is inconsistent with what the requirements are for a fair trial," Bender said. "It's not an ignorant jury. It's a panel of jurors who can make a decision based solely on what they hear in the courtroom."

The judge says a transcript of the hearing will be released after the sentencing which is predicted to last 10 days.

Gergel said he considered allowing an open hearing and sequestering jurors, but said he was concerned that would stress them.

Roof's standby counsel filed a motion asking the judge for a new mental evaluation late last week. That evaluation was the second conducted on Roof. His attorneys told the court new facts have emerged since the last competency hearing, but it is not clear what those facts are.

The new competency exam was conducted over the New Year's weekend.

Roof's previous competency hearing was closed to protect his right to a fair trial before jury selection, the judge said.

Judge issues order barring Roof from approaching witness stand, jury 

Gergel also issued an order Monday afternoon barring Roof from attempting to approach the jury, the witness stand or the bench during the sentencing phase.

In addition, Gergel specified the sitting arrangements for Roof and his standby counsel, with Roof sitting at the third seat from the center aisle and his counsel sitting in the first and second seats.

The order specifies that if Roof needs to give a document to a witness or the Court, he will "alert" the Court, and the courtroom staff will transfer the document from the lectern to the witness stand or to the court.

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