A federal judge has approved Dylann Roof’s request to act as his own lawyer in his federal hate crimes trial, just days after a team of medical professionals determined that he was sufficiently competent to stand trial at all.
Roof’s self-representation leaves open the possibility that the self-described white supremacist would have the opportunity to cross-examine any survivors and family members of the nine victims he gunned down during bible study at a black church in Charleston in June 2015.
Roof, 22, made the request on Monday morning, the Post and Courier reported, the same day that the jury selection process was scheduled.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel reportedly warned Roof that self-representation may be a bad idea and cited the vast experience of his appointed legal team. “I do find [that the] defendant has the personal capacity to self-representation,” Gergel told the Post and Courier. “I continue to believe that is strategically unwise, but it is a decision you have the right to make.”
Roof instead opted to have a standby counsel at the table with him during the trial, but that he will retain the position of lead counsel in his defense.
The U.S. Justice Department is seeking the death penalty for Roof for the murder of nine people attending bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. He later confessed to the shootings, saying he wanted to start “a race war.” He faces 33 federal charges in total, including nine counts of using a firearm to commit murder and 24 civil rights violations. He has offered to plead guilty in exchange for a life in prison sentence.
The jury selection process was initially slated for Nov. 7, but was delayed when his defense attorneys filed a sealed motion for a psychiatric evaluation, raising the issue of whether Roof was mentally capable to stand trial.
On Monday, 516 prospective jurors were summoned to the courthouse. Gergel, Roof and other attorneys in the case will question two panels of ten people each day, striking inappropriate candidates from the pool until 70 are left. Then Roof and prosecution team can dismiss jurors they don’t like, whittling the pool down to a final total of 12 jurors and six alternates.