November trial set in U.S. case against accused Charleston church shooter

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 07, 2016 4:37 PM

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - A U.S. judge on Tuesday set a Nov. 7 date for the federal trial of the white man accused of killing nine black parishioners in a racially motivated attack at a church in Charleston a year ago.

The trial date set by U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel puts the federal proceedings, in which prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Dylann Roof, ahead of a state capital punishment trial scheduled for January.

Gergel said up to 1,500 people from across South Carolina could be called as possible jurors when the federal case goes to trial.

Federal prosecutors said last month that they intended to pursue capital punishment for Roof should he be convicted of the June 17, 2015, killings during a Bible study at Charleston's historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

State prosecutors had signaled their plans to seek the death penalty last year and asked Gergel to allow the state murder case to go first.

Jury selection in the state trial is due to start in early December, which could overlap with the federal proceedings. Gergel estimated on Tuesday that jury selection and the guilt and penalty phases of the federal trial could last six weeks.

Roof, 22, faces 33 federal charges, including hate crimes, obstruction of religion and firearms offenses. His lawyers have said he would agree to plead guilty rather than go to trial if prosecutors ruled out capital punishment.

Defense attorney David Bruck said his client's offer to plead guilty still stands.

"Our plea offer has not been withdrawn and will never be withdrawn," Bruck said during the court hearing in Charleston.

Roof and more than a dozen family members of the shooting victims attended the hearing, held ahead of the first anniversary of the shooting next week.

A number of remembrance events are planned in Charleston, including a Bible study and service at the church and a service at the arena where President Barack Obama last year gave the eulogy for the church's slain pastor.

Bernice King, daughter of the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., will be the keynote speaker at an event in the city on June 18.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Dan Grebler)