Accused South Carolina church shooter defended by attorneys again

Reuters News
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Posted: Dec 05, 2016 11:22 AM

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - Accused white supremacist Dylann Roof got his attorneys back on Monday, after changing his mind about representing himself in the "guilt" phase of his federal trial for the shooting deaths of nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church last year.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel on Monday granted a request that Roof had filed through a handwritten motion on Sunday. The 22-year-old facing the death penalty indicated that he wanted his defense team restored at least temporarily, and that he later wished to represent himself again at sentencing.

Roof's decision was "knowing, intelligent, voluntary and timely," Gergel said in a court in Charleston, South Carolina, where Roof stood before him in a gray and white prison jumpsuit.

Roof faces 33 counts of hate crimes, obstruction of religion and firearms charges stemming from the shooting, which occurred during a Bible study session at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015.

He would plead guilty if federal prosecutors agreed to a sentence of life in prison without parole, his lawyers said previously. Prosecutors, who say he planned the attack for months, have refused.

The massacre of the nine churchgoers, gunned down after welcoming a stranger into their prayer group, shocked Americans of all races and sparked debate about race relations in the country.

Roof requested to represent himself throughout the trial when final jury selection began last week. But on Sunday, he wrote that he had changed his mind at least temporarily.

"Can you let me have them back for the guilt phase, and then let me represent myself for the sentencing phase of the trial?" Roof wrote in ink on lined notebook paper. "If you would allow that, then that is what I would like to do."

Gergel, in granting the motion, advised Roof to keep his representation through sentencing.

Roof also faces the death penalty in a state murder trial set to begin early next year.

(Writing by Letitia Stein; Editing by James Dalgleish)