CHARLESTON, S.C. – Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof says he won’t call any witnesses or present evidence while representing himself during the punishment phase of his death penalty trial, but he is working hard to keep secret potentially embarrassing evidence about himself and his family.
Just exactly what that evidence is remains a mystery. Roof, the judge and prosecutors carefully tiptoed around describing it during a hearing Wednesday. The judge has indicated that it may be allowed during the penalty phase of the trial, which starts next week.
The same jurors who convicted Roof earlier this month of killing nine black church members in a racially motivated attack will hear from Roof as well as testimony from the families of victims. At the end of the penalty phase, the panel will decide whether Roof, who is white, should be put to death or spend the rest of his life in prison.
Roof was warned by U.S. Judge Richard Gergel that being his own lawyer was a bad idea.
“That’s your decision,” Gergel said. “I think that highlights my advice to you that you aren’t served by being your own counsel.”
Gergel told Roof to talk to his grandfather, who is a lawyer, and other family members one last time. He told Roof he has until the start of the penalty phase Tuesday to change his mind and rehire his high-powered, publicly funded defense team.
Roof spoke for less than 10 minutes of the 35-minute hearing. He told Gergel he does plan an opening and closing statement. He also told the judge he objects to prosecutors’ plans to present a photograph of evidence in the court’s possession. Roof, Gergel and assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson talked about it without saying what it is.
Gergel said there was a hearing in which he decided it could be admitted in the penalty phase.
Roof also wanted a jailhouse statement left out of the penalty phase and evidence that involved his mother. No specifics were given. Gergel told Roof to go back to jail and write a motion for him to consider. Roof’s ankle chain clanked as he walked back to the defense table in his jail jumpsuit.
Roof’s defense attorneys wanted to call mental health experts, but Roof has indicated he will not. In his hate-filled, racist journal read to the jury during his trial, Roof said his doesn’t believe in psychology.
“It is a Jewish invention and does nothing but invent diseases and tell people they have problems when they don’t,” Roof wrote.
Prosecutors also laid out their case Wednesday. Most of the penalty phase will involve up to 38 people related to the nine people killed and the three people spared when Roof went into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, 2015, sat through a 45-minute Bible study in the fellowship hall, then fired 77 shots as many of the worshipers hid under tables.
Gergel, who complained during the guilt phase that prosecutors were repeating themselves at times with witnesses, said he will allow Richardson to call as many witnesses related to the victims as he wants.
“The statute provides broad leeway for the victims to be heard, and I plan on honoring that,” the judge said.
Richardson said he also will call the chief FBI agent on the case to tie up loose ends and refresh jurors’ memories.
Gergel spent much of the hearing going over the format of the penalty phase with Roof, warning him several times he was likely doing himself no favors leaving his defense team as just advisers to file briefs.
After saying he planned no witnesses, Roof told Gergel he was just answering the same question the judge had asked prosecutors. Gergel said that wasn’t necessary.
“Don’t do them any favors,” the judge said. “They aren’t going to do you any.”
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