Judge orders evaluation of Dylann Roof before sentencing

AP News
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Posted: Dec 29, 2016 3:11 PM

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A judge ordered another competency exam for Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof, who faces the death penalty for killing nine black parishioners last year.

Federal Judge Richard Gergel said Thursday he ordered a psychiatric evaluation of Roof "in an abundance of caution" after Roof's standby counsel filed a sealed motion again questioning his mental ability to stand trial.

The judge said he finds no reason to delay or cancel the trial's sentencing phase, set to begin Tuesday. Roof, who is white, intends to represent himself — though Gergel has warned him repeatedly that's a bad idea.

A jury found Roof guilty Dec. 15 on all 33 counts, including hate crimes and obstruction of religion.

The same jurors will hear from Roof and the families of victims and decide whether he should be sentenced to life in prison or death. Roof has said he won't call any witnesses or present evidence in the penalty phase.

Gergel's order said Roof will be evaluated over the weekend at the Charleston County jail.

The judge said he will rule on Roof's competency Monday, following a hearing. He's considering again closing the hearing, as he did last month over objections. Prosecutors had argued "victims should not be held in the dark."

Gergel said then he took the rare step of keeping the hearing closed to the public and media because Roof made statements to a psychologist that might not be legal to use at his trial and could taint potential jurors.

According to Gergel's order, Roof's standby attorneys said their latest request is based on "facts developed since" the last competency hearing. The judge said he won't hear any evidence he's already heard.

Also Thursday, prosecutors objected to the judge's plan to tell jurors if they don't reach a unanimous decision to sentence Roof to death, then he will sentence Roof to life in prison without the possibility for release.

"The court should only consider providing instruction on a deadlocked jury if the jury is in fact deadlocked," prosecutors said.