Jurors who found white supremacist Dylann Roof guilty of federal crimes tied to the killings of nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church will hear directly from him on Wednesday as the sentencing phase of his death penalty trial begins.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled on Monday that Roof, 22, was mentally fit to stand trial and act as his own lawyer as prosecutors make the case that he should be executed for the 2015 massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
But Gergel restricted Roof’s movements in the courtroom, ordering him to speak to jurors from behind a podium when he delivers his opening statement and barring him from approaching the jury, witnesses or the judge during the proceedings.
Roof confessed to gunning down nine people at a church Bible study session.
Jurors deliberated a little less than two hours last month before finding him guilty on all 33 federal counts of hate crimes, obstruction of religion and firearms charges against him.
Roof’s strategy for the sentencing phase is unclear.
He told the court he would give an opening statement but call no witnesses and offer no evidence, a revelation that prompted the lawyers who represented him during the guilt phase to question his competency.
Roof sought to represent himself in order to keep the jury from hearing mental health evidence about him, defense counsel David Bruck said in court documents. Such evidence is meant to sway a jury toward a sentence of life in prison without possibility of parole instead of the death penalty.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson said the government would present new evidence and call up to 38 family members of Emanuel victims to the witness stand.
Roof’s conviction set him up to be the first person to face back-to-back federal and state death sentences since the United States reinstated the death penalty at the national level in 1988.
Jury selection for his state trial on murder charges is expected to start later this month.
(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Matthew Lewis)
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