A federal judge will decide this week whether a white man accused of gunning down nine black parishioners in South Carolina last year is competent to stand trial.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said in a Nov. 8 memo jury selection for the case will be delayed until Nov. 21, pending the shooter’s competency evaluation and hearing scheduled for Monday and Wednesday, respectively.
“The court is mindful that this delay in jury selection may be disappointing to some, but it is the court’s duty to conduct a fair trial and follow procedures which protect the legal rights of the defendant,” Gergel wrote. “Under the present circumstances, the court finds this brief delay in jury selection to serve the ends of justice.”
Accused gunman Dylann Roof, 22, faces nearly three dozen federal offenses, including hate crime charges and obstruction of religion, for shooting and killing nine black parishioners during a bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on June 17, 2015.
Court documents describe Roof as a self-identified white supremacist who targeted the historically black church with the intention of starting a race war.
Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Some 516 potential jurors reported to the courthouse Nov. 7 to begin the weeks-long process of winnowing down the list to just 18-12 jurors plus six alternates, Guns.com previously reported. The first panel of 10 jurors were preparing to appear before the judge when Gergel announced a change in schedule.
“This is an unusually sensitive period in this proceeding where highly prejudicial pre-trial publicity could taint the jury pool and make selection of a fair and impartial jury increasingly challenging,” he wrote.
After conducting an 11 a.m. closed hearing with Roof’s legal team, Gergel dismissed the potential jurors and said the selection process would resume Wednesday, Nov. 9.
In a redacted memo released that same evening, Gergel explained why he kept the media and the public out of the surprise hearing, saying it would have violated client-attorney privilege and infringed upon Roof’s Sixth Amendment rights.
Gergel has until Friday to issue a ruling on Roof’s competency to stand trial, according to WACH Fox 57 News.