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Accused Charleston Church Shooter Rehires His Defense Team

Members of the defense team for Dylann Roof arrive at the federal courthouse in Charleston, S.C., on Nov. 7.
Chuck Burton

The man accused of killing nine people during a Bible study in Charleston, S.C., last year has rehired his defense attorneys to represent him in the first phase of his federal murder trial.

Dylann Roof, 22, faces 33 federal hate crimes charges for walking into the basement of a historically black church and sitting among worshipers before opening fire, according to prosecutors. The government is seeking the death penalty.

Earlier this month, Roof asked to represent himself in the trial, prompting a series of delays to the final phase of jury selection as U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ordered an evaluation of Roof's mental competency. Last week, Gergel granted Roof's motion to act as his own attorney.

For five days, Roof represented himself during the final jury selection, expressing few opinions about potential jurors as his attorneys sat next to him providing backup counsel.

But late last week, Roof's attorneys asked the judge to reverse the decision, arguing that Roof was not equipped to adequately defend himself against a possible death sentence, and that "allowing him to proceed would deprive him of protection against cruel and unusual punishment," reported the Charleston Post and Courier.

On Sunday, Roof sent a handwritten letter to the judge asking that his lawyers be allowed to represent him in the first phase of the trial, during which evidence is presented, but not during the sentencing phase, in which arguments will be presented for and against the death penalty.

"I would like to ask if my lawyers can represent me for the guilt phase of the trial only," the letter began.

On Monday morning, Judge Gergel asked Roof to confirm his request in court, the Post and Courierreported.

"You are delegating to (defense attorneys) your strategic decisions in the guilt phase, and that is acceptable to you?" Gergel asked Roof, according to the newspaper.

"Yes," Roof replied.

The ruling reinstated a defense team that includes attorney David Bruck, who also defended the man sentenced to die for his role in bombing the Boston Marathon, as The Two-Way has reported.

On Monday, jury selection resumed with Bruck handling all motions on Roof's behalf.

Among those motions was a request to dismiss the federal hate crimes indictment altogether, which the judge denied.

As The Two-Way has noted:

"The federal hate-crime charges against Roof 'center on both the victims' race and their identity as churchgoers who were attempting to follow their religious beliefs when Roof attacked.' At the time, [Attorney General Loretta Lynch] called hate crimes 'the original domestic terrorism.'

"Roof also faces federal weapons charges.

"The Justice Department says he selected the [ Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church] and his victims to win notoriety and to try to ignite a race war."

Roof appeared to have set up a website that included a "manifesto-like diatribe against non-whites," as we've reported.

Roof is also facing separate murder charges brought by the state of South Carolina, which is also seeking the death penalty. As NPR's Debbie Elliott has reported, the family members of some of the shooting victims have said they are unhappy with the drawn-out nature of the legal proceedings, and do not favor the death penalty for Roof.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rebecca Hersher is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.
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