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Accused Charleston church shooter will represent himself at federal hate-crimes trial

Charleston, S.C., shooting suspect Dylann Storm Roof is escorted from the Cleveland County Courthouse in Shelby, N.C., June 18, 2015. (Chuck Burton / Associated Press)
Charleston, S.C., shooting suspect Dylann Storm Roof is escorted from the Cleveland County Courthouse in Shelby, N.C., June 18, 2015. (Chuck Burton / Associated Press)
By Mark Berman and Matt Zapotosky Washington Post

The white man charged with killing nine black parishioners in a Charleston, South Carolina, church last year will be allowed to represent himself in his federal hate-crimes trial, a judge said Monday.

This means that Dylann Roof, 22, could question survivors of the attack if they are called to testify in the case, one of two trials he faces for the massacre at Emanuel AME Church. In addition to being indicted on federal hate-crimes charges, Roof has been charged with murder and attempted murder in state court, and he faces potential death sentences in both trials.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel’s decision on Monday came as jury selection is getting underway in the federal trial after a three-week delay. Jury selection was initially scheduled to begin earlier this month, but it was abruptly postponed after last-minute questions arose about Roof’s ability to understand the proceedings and assist in his own defense.

On Friday, Gergel ruled that Roof was competent to stand trial, though he kept sealed his exact reasons for doing so, and hearings and filings on the matter also were shielded from public view.

There were other sealed filings over the weekend in the case, which may have reflected debate over Roof’s request to represent himself. It is unclear how his decision to represent himself could affect the timetable for the trial, which is expected to last months. Gergel is expected to issue a written order later Monday, according to the Justice Department.

Attorneys for Roof have said that he had planned to plead guilty if the federal government did not seek a death sentence. David Bruck, an attorney for Roof, did not respond to a message seeking comment about Roof’s decision to represent himself.

Roof told Gergel that he wanted his attorneys to continue sitting at his table during the trial and act as his “stand-by counsel,” according to the Post and Courier newspaper.

Prosecutors say that Roof “self-radicalized” online, absorbing violent white supremacist beliefs through the Internet, rather than from any personal experiences or associations.

After the church massacre, authorities found a manifesto online that belonged to Roof and was filled with racist characterizations of black people. It also contained images of Roof holding a Confederate battle flag and standing in front of a Confederate museum.

Authorities say they have found two handwritten manifestos from Roof, one in his jail cell and the other in his car. They also say they located a list of churches.

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