Federal Trial For Charleston Shooter Dylann Roof Set For November
It won't be a very good holiday season for Charleston Church shooter Dylann Roof.
The Federal trial of Dylann Roof, the shooter at an historic African-American Church in Charleston, South Carolina, has been scheduled to start in November:
CHARLESTON, S.C. — A federal judge on Tuesday scheduled a November trial for Dylann S. Roof, a white man accused in the massacre of nine African-American worshipers at a prominent church here a year ago, and suggested that up to 1,500 prospective jurors might be called statewide to fill out a panel.
With the decision, Judge Richard M. Gergel of Federal District Court turned down an earlier request by the state prosecutor, Scarlett A. Wilson, to allow the state trial, which was scheduled for January, to go first. The death penalty will be sought in both trials. The effect on the state’s case is unclear.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Mr. Roof sat impassively in front of members of the victims’ families, as well as journalists and spectators as Judge Gergel questioned his lawyers and the Justice Department on whether they would be ready for a Nov. 7 trial.
Federal prosecutors last year filed a 33-count indictment against Mr. Roof, who prosecutors say sat in a Bible study class at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for about an hour before opening fire. In announcing their plan to seek the death penalty in a filing on May 24, prosecutors cited nine aggravating factors, including that Mr. Roof had “expressed hatred and contempt towards African-Americans as well as other groups, and his animosity toward African-Americans played a role in the murders charged in the indictment.”
Jury selection is expected to take two to three weeks, the trial and deliberations another two weeks, the judge said, and then, after a break, another two weeks is expected for the penalty phase — which would determine whether Mr. Roof will face execution if he is convicted.
Judge Gergel methodically read through a litany of expectations, which included a list of expert witnesses, providing reports on mental health evaluations for Mr. Roof by June 24, and beginning initial jury selection efforts by July.
He suggested the use of a standard juror questionnaire for the initial screening. “It does tend to screen out the hotheads,” he said.
As noted, it was just a couple weeks ago that Federal prosecutor announced a plan to seek the death penalty in Roof’s case, mirroring a decision by state prosecutors to do the same. What is somewhat unusual is the fact that the trial in the Federal case has been set to go to trial before the state trial, which is presently set for trial in January. Typically, Federal prosecutors defer in these matters to the state and allow them to go forward first and it’s only been in the atypical case, such as the Oklahoma City Bombing trials of Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols that the Federal Government has gone first. As it stands at this point, it’s likely that not only will the state case go second but that it will likely need to be continued from the current January trial date since it is set to start so close to when the Federal case is likely to be ending.
In both cases, of course, there is little doubt of Roof’s guilt with regard to the underlying charges. The evidence establishing his identity as the shooter has never really been in doubt and the defense has not raised any suggestion that they are contending he did not in fact commit the crime. The only real issue here is sentencing and, as in the case of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Aurora, Colorado shooter James Holmes, the defenses concern will be with attempting to avoid the death penalty during the sentencing phase. The attorneys representing Tsarnaev were unsuccessful in that regard, of course, but the attorneys for Holmes ended up succeeding in the end in convincing a jury to spare their client from the death penalty and sentenced to life in prison without parole instead. Whether that will occur in what is generally considered a very conservative state such as South Carolina will be one of the more interesting parts of the upcoming trials.