Dylann Roof to Represent Himself in Charleston Church Shooting Trial

By
The defendant and his lawyer.Photo: Randall Hill/Getty Images

A federal judge on Monday granted Dylann Roof’s request to represent himself in his upcoming hate-crime trial. Roof, 22, is an avowed white supremacist who stands accused of murdering nine people in a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June of last year. The prosecution has said that it will seek the death penalty.

Roof asked Judge Richard Gergel for permission to represent himself on Monday during jury selection, just two days after the judge found him mentally competent to stand trial. Roof had employed a highly regarded legal team, which specialized in capital cases. The judge advised Roof against jettisoning his lawyers but ultimately decided that if Roof was capable of standing trial, he was capable enough to exercise his Sixth Amendment right to self-representation. His lawyers will now stay on in an exclusively advisory capacity.

“I do find the defendant has the personal capacity to self-representation. I continue to believe it is strategically unwise, but it is a decision you have the right to make,” said Gergel.

Roof faces 33 federal charges, including nine counts of violating the Hate Crime Act resulting in death, and three counts of violating the Hate Crime Act involving an attempt to kill. He will also face nine counts of murder along with other charges in his state trial, which is expected to begin early next year.

In allowing Roof to defend himself, the judge raised the chilling possibility that he will cross-examine survivors and relatives of the victims of his crimes. Roof sat with a Bible study group at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for more than an hour before opening fire on them with a handgun. Only three members of the group — two women and a child — survived. Experts worry that in defending himself, Roof will turn the trial into a public platform from which to espouse his racist beliefs.