CHARLESTON — Jury selection in the trial of a white man accused of killing nine African-Americans begins Monday in Charleston, once again putting South Carolina and race relations in the South in a national spotlight.
But in the case of Dylann Roof, rendering judgment likely will be an intensely local process.
Roof, 22, has been federally indicted on 33 counts related to nine murders in the June 2015 killings, some of those charges drawing on hate crime laws. Authorities say he walked into a Wednesday night Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and opened fire.
With the shootings, Roof intended to boost racial tensions, according to federal officials. Instead, the shooting left the nation aghast that worshippers were slaughtered in a house of God and touched off questions about “lone wolf” shooters, race relations and the nature of forgiveness.
South Carolina lawmakers answered by ridding its statehouse grounds of the Confederate flag.
Summonses were initially issued to 3,000 prospective jurors, with that initial pool now narrowed to 512 Charleston-area residents. A panel of 12 drawn from that number will answer the question of guilt, and afterward, a question of life or death.
Winnowing down the final Roof jury pool could take at least two weeks and the process is often filled with choices that are counterintuitive, say trial experts.
Amid high-profile cases, lawyers sometimes seek a new venue, arguing that media overexposure and local opinion prevent a fair trial, but Roof’s defense team argued over the summer that an impartial jury could be found in the nine-county federal district in South Carolina’s Lowcountry.