By Harriet McLeod
CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - A federal judge on Monday granted a request by Dylann Roof, the white man accused of killing nine black parishioners at a Charleston, South Carolina church last year, to represent himself at his death penalty trial.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said he believed Roof's decision was unwise but ruled in court that the defendant had the right and capacity to serve as his own lawyer.
Roof faces 33 counts of hate crimes, obstruction of religion and firearms charges stemming from the massacre carried out at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015. Prosecutors will seek the death penalty if he is convicted.
Gergel ruled on Friday that Roof, 22, was mentally competent to stand trial, following concerns raised by defense attorneys about their client's ability to understand the nature of the proceedings against him and to assist in his defense.
That decision paved the way for jury selection to resume on Monday. But, in another twist, Gergel said he then received a motion from Roof seeking to represent himself.
The judge called Roof to the podium and asked him a series of questions about whether he understood the charges and penalties he faced and if his decision was voluntary.
Roof, shackled and dressed in a striped gray and white prison jumpsuit, answered "Yes" or "Yes, sir."
The judge appointed Roof's current lawyers to serve as standby counsel before bringing in the first panel of jurors for questioning.
Lawyers have said it could take about two weeks to pick 12 jurors and six alternates to hear testimony.
(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Bernadette Baum)