Expert: Roof trial competency vs. insanity defense

VIDEO: Expert: Roof trial competency vs. insanity defense
Published: Nov. 25, 2016 at 11:41 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 26, 2016 at 12:06 AM EST
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A Federal judge declared Dylann Roof is competent to stand trial for the Charleston church shootings. The order was released Friday, and it means the trial will continue as scheduled Monday.

According to the court order, Judge Richard Gergel believes Roof understands the nature of the court proceedings and is able to consult with his attorneys and assist in preparing his defense.

"I must admit I'm not terribly surprised," said Charleston School of Law Professor Miller Shealy. "To be declared incompetent to stand trial is difficult. One has to be quite mentally ill, one has to have some serious problem."

The actual hearing earlier this week was closed to the public. Gergel and his staff had promised to work through the holiday week to get the court order complete.

Details of Roof's psychological evaluation are sealed by the court. The judge says that is to protect Roof's right to a fair trial and impartial jury and to prevent the chance of a retrial later on. Gergel said he would eventually try to release a redacted version of the competency hearing transcript if possible.

Today's order has nothing to do with Roof's mental capacity at the time of the crime. It only decides that right now, he is fit for trial.

"It is very important to keep these two things separate. There are two basic issues. One has to do with competency to stand trial," Shealy explained. "The other issue is what we call the defense of insanity. Different states have different tests, but that goes to your mental state at the time you committed the crime. That's very different."

A former Assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted many death penalty cases, Shealy says his experience leads him to believe Roof's defense team will raise the question of insanity in the trial.

"I would expect based on his background and what we know, there's going to be a lot of information and testimony about his mental state at the time he did this. That's yet to be resolved. That's an issue for the jury," Shealy said.

Roof faces 33 federal charges, including hate crimes, for the shooting at Mother Emanuel church last year in which nine people died.

The competency evaluation and hearing delayed jury selection about three weeks. Victims and family members of victims told the Judge last week they were struggling emotionally with the court delays.

"What I think the victims should consider, as much pain as they've been through, you don't want to do this twice. It's bad enough to do it once. You don't want to have a retrial in two, three, four, five or even ten years because some appellate court finds an error on this. You need closure; you need an ending. This protects the victims," said Shealy.

He said the trial could last well into the new year.

Jury selection will begin again Monday morning at the federal courthouse downtown Charleston.

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