A federal judge on Monday granted a request by Dylann Roof, the white man accused of killing nine black parishioners at a Charleston, South Carolina church last year, to represent himself at his death penalty trial.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said he believed Roof’s decision was unwise but ruled in court that the defendant had the right and capacity to serve as his own lawyer.
The judge called Roof to the podium and asked him a series of questions about whether he understood the charges and penalties he faced and if his decision was voluntary.
Roof, shackled and dressed in a striped gray and white prison jumpsuit, answered “Yes” or “Yes, sir.”
The judge appointed Roof’s current lawyers to serve as standby counsel before bringing in the first panel of jurors for questioning.
Jury selection is expected to resume today in the trial of accused white supremacist Dylann Roof, who is charged with killing nine black parishioners inside a Charleston church last year.
On Friday, a federal judge ruled that Roof was competent to stand trial. The 22-year-old suspect’s competency was the subject of a 16-hour hearing held behind closed doors last week.
Earlier this month, as final jury selection was getting under way, defense attorneys raised concerns for the first time about whether Roof was able to understand the nature of the proceedings against him and to assist in his defense.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said in an order on Friday that he believed Roof had the mental capacity to do so.
The judge said he made his ruling after considering a large record of evidence, including arguments from lawyers in the case and the testimony of a renowned psychiatrist who evaluated Roof at the court’s request.
Gergel kept under seal his detailed findings about Roof’s competency, however, saying that making them public would jeopardize the defendant’s right to a fair trial.
Lawyers have said it could take about two weeks to pick 12 jurors and six alternates to hear testimony.
Arthur “Steve” Hurd, whose wife Cynthia Hurd was among those killed in the shooting, said he planned to be in the courtroom this week. (Cynthia Hurd also was the sister of former North Carolina Sen. Malcolm Graham of Charlotte.)
“Justice has prevailed,” Arthur Hurd said when reached by phone. “I had confidence in the judge that he would make a fair and impartial decision.”
A lawyer for Roof did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Gergel closed the competency hearing to the public over the objections of media outlets and victims’ family members.
Roof also faces the death sentence in a state murder trial scheduled for next year.
Roof is charged with 33 counts of hate crimes, obstruction of religion and firearms charges stemming from the massacre carried out during a Bible study inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church — a shooting that shook the country and intensified the debate over U.S. race relations.
Federal prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty if Roof is convicted.