A second hearing to determine Dylann Roof’s mental competency was held behind closed doors on Monday, one day before jurors will return to court to decide whether the self-avowed white supremacist should face the death penalty for murdering nine black churchgoers in June 2015.The same jury found 22-year-old Roof guilty last month of all 33 charges relating to that massacre, which he carried out as congregants had their heads bowed in prayer during Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said his decision to keep the competency hearing private, despite objections from an attorney representing news outlets including the Post and Courier and the Associated Press, hinged on the pervasiveness of social media and the level of attention paid to Roof’s trial thus far.With this in mind, Gergel thought the risk of the jury being exposed to details from that hearing was too high. “I can’t walk down the street without hearing people talk about this case,” Gergel said, according to the Post and Courier. “This tragedy profoundly affected this community.”Gergel weighed two options: sequestering the jury, or keeping the hearing behind closed doors. He went with the latter.Attorneys acting as standby counsel for the 22-year-old defendant filed a motion last Thursday requesting a second hearing to assess whether Roof was competent to represent himself and proceed with the sentencing phase of the trial. Gergel granted the request.Roof, who has chosen to represent himself in the sentencing portion of the trial, has rejected efforts to portray him as mentally unstable, which would potentially be his best defense against receiving the death penalty. His lawyer David Bruck in the guilt phase of the trial painted Roof as a lost and lonely young man who had been overly influenced by hateful material he read online. Prosecution attorneys, by comparison, painted him as a cold-blooded, calculated killer motivated by racial hatred.On Dec. 16, Roof wrote to Gergel saying he would “not be calling mental health experts or presenting mental health evidence.” This may be a reflection on Roof’s previous statements opposing mental health in general. In a journal entry from June 2015, Roof states that he is “morally opposed to psychology.” “It is a Jewish invention and does nothing but invent diseases and tell people they have problems when they don’t,” Roof wrote.An independent psychiatrist spent about five hours with Roof over the weekend at Charleston County jail, the Post and Courier reported. Monday’s competency hearing marks the second since November, which took place ahead of jury selection.Roof told Gergel last month that he plans to make opening and closing statements, but will not call witnesses to the stand nor present evidence on his behalf.