Judge closes Dylann Roof competency hearing to the public

AP News
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Posted: Nov 16, 2016 5:26 PM

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The public won't get to hear the evidence of whether Dylann Roof is competent to face a death penalty trial in the killings of nine black people in a Charleston church, according to an order Wednesday from a judge.

There will be interviews with Roof and evidence presented at the hearing that may not end up being allowed before the jury and that could keep Roof from getting a fair trial, judge Richard Gergel wrote.

Gergel is giving media organizations a chance to argue against his ruling Thursday afternoon. The Associated Press, The Post and Courier of Charleston, The State of Columbia, NPR and WCSC-TV have all asked the hearing be kept open along with prosecutors.

Roof's closed competency hearing is scheduled for Monday, with Gergel scheduling jury selection to tentatively begin Nov. 28 in Roof's federal death penalty trial if he is found competent.

Gergel said he will issue a public order on Roof's competency, blacking out material he doesn't think should be public.

Roof's attorneys brought up the issue of whether he is mentally able to help his lawyers on the eve of jury selection beginning earlier this month.

Gergel then quickly ordered an exam that finished in about a week. The judge is currently reviewing that report.

It was the first time Roof's competency has been brought into question. The reason that his lawyers are worried about his mental state has been kept under seal.

Roof, 22, is charged with hate crimes, obstruction of religion and other counts in federal court in the June 2015 attack at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Roof sat through an hour of Bible studies and prayer with 12 people in the church basement before shooting and killing nine of them, authorities said. The white man hurled racial insults at the black worshippers, telling the three he left alive that he spared them to tell the world the shootings were because he hated black people.

State prosecutors want to hold a separate death penalty trial against Roof on nine counts of murder.

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