COLUMBIA, S.C. - Dylann Roof, the suspect in the shooting deaths of nine parishoners of a black church in Charleston, was granted permission by a judge on Monday to represent himself in his upcoming trial.
CBS Charleston affiliate WCSC-TV reports that Roof, facing 33 charges including hate crime and murder, told U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel that he has reviewed the order that declared him competent to stand trial, and that he felt ready to represent himself.
Gergel told Roof in court that he felt the decision to be “strategically unwise,” but he ultimately granted Roof permission to represent himself at trial. Roof’s previous attorneys will now serve as stand-by counsel, the judge told the defendant in court.
Noted death penalty attorney David Bruck slid over after the decision and let Roof take the lead chair. The lawyers can stand by and help Roof if he asks.
Unless a defendant is ruled incompetent, or the judge believes the defendant will be too much of a distraction, defendants have to be allowed to represent themselves in court, reports CBS News justice correspondent Paula Reid.
A similar example to this situation is Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, reports Reid. He chose to represent himself despite no practical legal experience, and rather than cause a scene, he simply did little work during his trial, asking few questions, presenting little evidence. He ended up being given the death penalty.
The decision to find Roof competent to stand trial and to allow him to represent himself clears the way for jury selection to resume.
The judge had delayed the process of narrowing the final jury pool on Nov. 7 when Roof’s lawyers suggested their client either didn’t understand the charges against him or couldn’t properly help them with his defense. The lawyers did not say what led them to question Roof’s fitness for trial.
In a similarity with the Boston Marathon bombing trial, the key question now will be whether Roof will receive the death penalty in theevent that he’s convicted, Reid reports.
Roof is charged in federal court with hate crimes, obstruction of religion and other counts in connection with the June 17, 2015, attack at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
At Roof’s competency hearing, Gergel heard testimony from psychologist James Ballenger and four other unnamed witnesses and reviewed sworn statements from three others, the judge wrote in his order.
Roof also has already been found competent in state court, where prosecutors plan a second death penalty trial on nine counts of murder.
According to police, Roof sat through nearly an hour of prayer and Bible study at the church with its pastor and 11 others before pulling a gun from his fanny pack near the end of the class and firing dozens of shots.
Roof hurled racial insults at the six women and three men he is charged with of killing and the three people left alive, authorities said. He said he left the three unharmed so they could tell the world the shootings were because he hated black people.