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Judge blocks mental health testimony for South Carolina church shooting suspect

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June 17, 2015: A white supremacist gunman kills nine black churchgoers during a Bible study session at a historic, predominantly black church in Charleston, South Carolina. The suspect Dylann Roof is awaiting trial. REUTERS/Jason Miczek/File Photo

A federal judge said on Tuesday he would not allow defense lawyers to present evidence about Dylann Roof’s mental health to jurors weighing his guilt in the June 2015 massacre at a historic church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Roof’s lawyers have not disputed that the avowed white supremacist shot and killed nine black parishioners during a Bible study and asked to call witnesses to testify about his state of mind and personal characteristics.

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The motion listing the witnesses was sealed. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson, who said in court they included a police officer and someone with whom Roof had a business interaction, objected to the proposed testimony as “self-serving hearsay” and “justification.”

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled that such evidence must wait until the penalty phase, when prosecutors plan to seek a death sentence.

The defense is hoping jurors will spare Roof, 22, from execution. He has indicated he will represent himself during the trial’s sentencing phase.

Roof is not asserting an insanity defense and was found competent to stand trial on federal charges of hate crimes resulting in death, obstruction of religion and firearms violations, Gergel noted in a written order on Monday.

He is scheduled to stand trial in state court early next year on murder charges for the massacre.

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Tuesday marked the fifth day of testimony in the federal case in Charleston. Jurors have viewed Roof’s video confession and the racist manifesto he posted online before the shooting in which he railed against blacks and Jews and promoted his ideology of white superiority.

Prosecutors said they expect to finish their case on Wednesday with eyewitness testimony from Polly Sheppard, who was at the church but not killed because Roof said he wanted her tell what he had done.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Bill Trott)

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