Dylann Roof representing himself in death penalty trial; 7 jurors picked so far

Dylann Roof representing himself in death penalty trial; 7 jurors picked so far
Dylann Roof.
Dylann Roof defending himself in court on Monday. (Sketch: Robert Maniscalco)
Dylann Roof defending himself in court on Monday. (Sketch: Robert Maniscalco)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A federal judge granted a motion to allow the accused Emanuel AME Church shooter to represent himself in trial, although he told the suspect it was unwise.

Wearing a gray-and-blue striped prison outfit Monday morning, 22-year-old Dylann Roof told Judge Richard Gergel he understood his attorneys have skills and experience he may not have, but he wanted to self-represent as his attorneys serve as stand-by counsel.

"While the Government and the Court have an interest in having counsel remain to ensure the integrity and efficiency of the trial, that interest cannot trump the defendant's constitutional right," a court document filed Monday reads.

The judge asked if he wanted his now standby counsel to sit next to him, or behind him, and Roof answered,"Beside me."

He then asked if Roof was able to start jury selection today, to which Roof responded,"Yes, I'm ready." Not allowing Roof to represent himself would go against the logic of the Sixth Amendment.

Roof then took the lead chair at the defense table as jury selection for the federal death penalty trial began. The jury selection process moved fairly quickly throughout the day, so much so, that on Tuesday they'll bring in 24 potential jurors as opposed to 20.

In Monday's two panels, only seven jurors were deemed qualified to serve on a jury. Six of them were women, the other a man. The court is focused on gathering 70 potential jurors to choose from for the actual trial; 12 jurors and six alternates will need to be chosen.

At this point it appears the process will take several weeks, however the judge is pleased with how quickly the questioning is happening.

There seemed to be a least one time Roof and his standby counsel didn't agree.

They were communicating with him by writing him notes and giving him sticky notes which he had a stack of them.

They obviously wanted him to object to a juror. Roof then stood up to say no objection, when his former lawyer grabbed at his jumpsuit and said,"You can object."

The lawyer then tried to issue an objection on his behalf, to which the judge denied

One strike from Monday's jury selection was that of a black man who appeared to be in his 60s who Roof requested to be dismissed.

This was the only black person among the two panels of potential jurors gathered on Monday.

He was asked questions about his view of the death penalty which he said he could come up with a verdict based on the facts and evidence presented in trial.

This is not his first time in a courtroom. The judge said the man served as a foreman on a grand jury in the past for at least six months.

The prosecution had some follow up questions for the man, and before bringing him back into the courtroom Roof made a motion to strike this juror from the pool.

After several questions, the judge granted Roof's motion to dismiss the juror.

There were more than a dozen family members, including two survivors, in the courtroom just feet away from Roof.  They were very quiet and intent on the proceedings with one of them holding a bible.

Roof never acknowledged them, and did not acknowledge many people. He only talked to his lawyers when they asked him something.

Melvin Graham, the brother of Cynthia Graham Hurd, said two of his other brothers will be court, but his another brother will not since he cannot bear to be there.

Roof is currently pleading not guilty on charges including hate crimes, the shooting deaths of nine and the attempted murder of three.

LIVE BLOG: Dylann Roof trial

Jury selection was scheduled to begin on Nov. 7, but was suspended after Roof's lawyers moved to have the suspect analyzed by a doctor who could determine whether or not he was suffering a "mental disease or defect" that may make him unable to understand what was going on in court.

Court-appointed psychiatrist Dr. James Ballenger reported on Roof's competency in a two-day hearing last week. Proceedings happened away from the public and the media, but documents filed on Friday declared that the court found Roof competent to stand trial.

According to a 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."

With the competency evaluation complete, the process of whittling down 512 people to a jury of 12 and six alternates resumed Monday at 9 a.m.

The process may continue into the new year.

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