A federal judge ruled Friday that alleged Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof is mentally competent to stand trial.
Jury selection is expected to resume in federal court in Charleston next Monday, according to U.S. Judge Richard Gergel’s order.
The decision comes after two days of closed-door competency hearings, where Gergel received “testimony and voluminous documents.” Those who testified included court-appointed examiner James Ballenger – who assessed Roof’s competency – four other witnesses and the sworn statements by three others.
To be found competent, Roof needed the “capacity to understand the nature and object of the proceedings against him, to consult with counsel, and to assist in preparing his defense.”
The Associated Press, National Public Radio, The State Media Co., as well as Charleston’s Post & Courier newspaper and WCSC-TV fought to for the hearings to be public. More than a half-dozen African-American survivors and relatives of victims of the June 2015 massacre at historic Mother Emanuel AME Church, and federal prosecutors also called on the hearings to be open.
Gergel refused, saying that Roof’s right to a fair trial and getting an impartial jury trumped those concerns.
He sealed the documents that contained information he used to rule Roof was competent to stand trial, making the same argument. Gergel also sealed the transcripts of the competency hearing, despite previously stating he would release a censored transcript with portions that didn’t affect Roof’s rights.
Jury selection was originally supposed to begin Nov. 7, but Roof’s lawyers, led by anti-death penalty lawyer David Bruck, surprised the judge and prosecutors on that morning by bringing up the issue of mental competence.
At that point, Gergel told the court audience, he had no choice but to instantly order an independent psychiatric evaluation of Roof – even though it delayed jury selection – or risk having the results of the upcoming trial overturned on appeal.
Jury selection is expected to take three to four weeks, and Gergel has already indicated court will recess during the Christmas holiday period. That would push the start of trial testimony to January.
Picking 12 jurors is expected to be long and tedious. They’d have to first determine on Roof’s guilt. Then, they Roof should be put to death or spend life in prison
A federal indictment in the case alleges Roof, 22, a self-described white supremacist from the Columbia area, went to Charleston to kill African-Americans to "incite racial tensions across the nation." Roof killed nine people, including church pastor state Sen. Clementa Pinckney.