Judge orders competency exam, delays jury selection in church shooting trial

FILE - In this June 19, 2015 file photo, Dylann Storm Roof appears via video before a judge, in Charleston, S.C., Friday, June 19, 2015. Roof is accused of killing nine people inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.   (Centralized Bond Hearing Court via AP)
FILE - In this June 19, 2015 file photo, Dylann Storm Roof appears via video before a judge, in Charleston, S.C., Friday, June 19, 2015. Roof is accused of killing nine people inside Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. (Centralized Bond Hearing Court via AP)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCMH) — A judge announced Tuesday that he has ordered another competency exam for a white man charged with killing nine black parishioners at a Charleston church one day after halting jury selection because of a motion from defense attorneys.

The exam for Dylann Roof is underway and should be finished by next week. Federal Judge Richard Gergel wrote in his brief order that he plans to rule within days whether Roof is competent and, if so, to begin jury selection for Roof’s death penalty trial on Nov. 21.

Jury selection was supposed to begin Monday, but instead Gergel held a hearing with only him, Roof and defense lawyers to consider the motion, which has not been made public. Gergel’s order indicates he decided to order the exam after that hearing.

The defense motion for the exam is being kept secret, like many recent developments in the case. The Monday hearing was held behind closed doors in part so it wouldn’t influence potential jurors and in part to protect attorney-client privilege, Gergel said in a memo with large sections blacked out.

Almost 70 motions, documents and orders have been filed in the case since the September. All but two have been sealed from view by the public and the media.

Roof is charged with hate crimes, obstruction of religion and other counts in the killings at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Authorities said he sat with 12 people in a prayer meeting for nearly an hour before firing dozens of times, killing nine and leaving three people unharmed so they could tell the world the shootings were because he hated black people.

Gergel’s order may delay opening statements until 2017. The judge plans to question the jury pool of 500 in groups of 10 twice a day until he qualifies 70 potential jurors for lawyers to choose from. That process is expected to take several weeks.

Roof’s lawyers have said previously that he would plead guilty to the charges in federal court if prosecutors would agree not to seek the death penalty.

State prosecutors also plan a death penalty trial for Roof on nine counts of murder after the federal trial is finished.

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