Lawyer decries emotional testimony at South Carolina church gunman's trial

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 05, 2017 3:25 PM

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - Convicted murderer Dylann Roof's failure to object in court to tearful testimony by family members of those slain in the South Carolina church massacre show he is incapable of making a case to spare his life, his former lawyer said on Thursday.

Roof, a 22-year-old white supremacist, is acting as his own lawyer as prosecutors at his federal hate crimes trial in Charleston make a case for him to be sentenced to death for murdering nine black people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in 2015.

But prominent capital defense lawyer David Bruck, who represented Roof during the guilt phase of the trial and now serves as his standby counsel, said the defendant was not making the objections needed to put up a proper defense.

"This man cannot protect his own rights," Bruck argued. "He cannot do it."

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel refused to let Bruck object to such testimony on Roof's behalf.

The judge told jurors to disregard emotional opinion from witnesses and encouraged prosecutors to pare down their list of people who would be called to describe the impact of the massacre. Assistant U.S Attorney Jay Richardson said adjustments were being made but noted the large number of victims resulted from Roof's choices.

Roof offered no defense or apology for his crimes when he gave a brief opening statement on Wednesday to the same jury that last month found him guilty of 33 federal charges. He instead insisted to jurors he is not mentally ill.

Roof has asked no questions of survivors and friends of the shooting victims after they recounted their loved ones' legacies and the painful moments when they learned of their deaths.

Denise Quarles, who remembered her mother, Myra Thompson, as a strong, talkative planner, said she was angry that Roof killed Thompson in their beloved church after being welcomed by members to a Bible study meeting.

"It pisses me off, but I won't let what happened in that church stop me from being there," Quarles told jurors.

She did not say whether she thought Roof should be executed or sentenced to life in prison without parole.

(Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Leslie Adler)