CHARLESTON, S. C. – After a judge ruled Monday that Dylann Roof is competent to represent himself, the same jury that last month unanimously found him guilty in the massacre of the nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church back to the court to begin considering his punishment.
With the 22-year-old represent himself, the trial is sure to be unconventional. But even if the Roof is sentenced to death, it is very unlikely that he would be running anytime soon.
While the prosecutors plan to summon up to 38 people in connection with the nine people killed and three who survived the June 2015 slaughter during the study of the Bible at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, Roof said last week that he is planning on calling no witnesses and presenting no evidence.
The roof was found guilty last month on 33 federal charges, including hate crimes and obstruction of the practice of the religion. A jury took less than three hours to return its verdict, and a judge dismissed the jury for a break during the holidays.
Usually in what is known as the decisive phase, defense attorneys, call of relatives and other witnesses to testify on their client’s fragile state of mind before and during the crimes. Given that background, the defense hopes the jury might be more likely to spare the defendant’s life and oppose the death penalty.
But the Roof, acting as his own lawyer has said that he is planning to do no such thing.
In his diary, which was read in court during his trial, Roof said that he does not believe in psychology, which he called “a Jewish invention” that “does nothing but invent diseases, and tell people that they have problems when they are not.”
The roof also seems to be determined to try to proof embarrassing to him or his family. Not only has he his own defense, but he asked the judge during a hearing last week if he could file a motion to restrict what prosecutors can introduce.
Roof was also firmly convinced that a transcript of a hearing, where he was found mentally competent not be released to the public.
“I know this is not a legal argument, but the unsealing of the competence to hear defeats the purpose of me represent myself,” said Roof at last week’s hearing.
No Roof, nor U. S. District Judge Richard Gergel nor the officers of justice have given the specifications on the aircraft Roof is an objection against it.
On Thursday, Gergel ordered another competency evaluation of the Roof “in an abundance of caution,” after his stand-by counsel filed a sealed motion re-ask Roof of the mental faculties, to continue.
On Monday, over the objection of a lawyer, the media, including The Associated Press, Gergel ordered the competency hearing to be closed to the public. To say that he would have to sequester jurors as he opened the proceedings, the judge promised to make a transcript after the Roof has been condemned.
“This is a very sensitive time in this procedure,” Gergel said. “We are putting in the hands of 12 people the life and the death of a person.”
After a whole day of hearing, Gergel ultimately ruled Roof is competent to stand trial and to represent himself at sentencing. He also granted the Roof of the request for an extra day to prepare for his case.
Roof-lawyers tried repeatedly, both to stop him from his own lawyer, and to the work of the mental health-related evidence in the first phase of his trial, saying they feared the Roof fired them because he feared the lawyers, that would be a proof to him that would embarrass when trying to save his life.
Prosecutors objected at every turn, and Gergel would not allow it in the court, the judgment mitigating evidence is allowed during the sentencing and not before.
Court papers show prosecutors expected to present evidence showing that the Roof picked his victims because of their race, and killed them to convert to more violence, showed no remorse and killed three particularly vulnerable people who are 70 years or older.
Evidence speaking to the Roof of the mental condition, an expert may make the difference between life and death.
“The Dylann Roof case is a classic example of the kind of problem you can have when a clearly mentally ill or emotionally disturbed defendant is permitted to represent himself,” said Robert Dunham, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. “There is a big difference in the eyes of a jury between someone who they perceived as bad or contemptible and someone who they perceive as being seriously mentally ill. … If your spiritual health, you’re putting a thumb on the scale of the death.”
Both the decision of the court to the Roof to represent himself and to forego the introduction of the mental health evidence was sure to be brought up in an inevitable appeal, Dunham argued.
The roof is also facing nine murder charges in state court, where the prosecutors have also said they will seek the death penalty in a lawsuit is likely to begin sometime next year.
Or he is sentenced to death or not, it is unlikely that the Roof would be carried out at any time quickly, in the jurisdiction. The federal government hasn’t executed anyone since 2003, and there are years of appeals between a sentence of death is imposed and carried out.
South Carolina’s death chamber was not used, since 2011, at least in part to a lack of availability for the drugs the state uses for lethal injections.