CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — The white man prosecutors accuse of gunning down nine black parishioners in a bid to start a race war showed no signs of a racial agenda Tuesday, taking a calm, businesslike approach to selecting a jury that would ultimately decide whether he’s put to death.
A judge ruled this week that Dylann Roof could begin representing himself in his federal trial on dozens of charges — including hate crimes and obstruction of religion — for the June 2015 mass shooting at a South Carolina church.
Against his attorneys’ advice, Roof sought and won the judge’s approval Monday to act as his own attorney. The defendant gave no reason except the constitutional provision governing defendants’ right to a speedy trial.
With his defense attorneys demoted to advisers, Roof eased into the role Tuesday of making arguments before the judge as jury selection got underway.
Police say Roof sat through nearly an hour of prayer and Bible study at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church before pulling a gun and firing dozens of shots. According to police, he shouted racial insults and left three people unharmed so they could tell the world the shootings were because he hated black people.
None of that demeanor was present in court Tuesday.
Roof sat in the lead chair at the defense table, wearing a striped jail uniform but no handcuffs or shackles. He made no outbursts or personal statements and stuck to the matter at hand: selecting a fair and impartial jury to consider his trial, expected to open later this year.
Much of the time, he traded notes back and forth with David Bruck, a noted capital defender who was his primary attorney until Monday.
Roof joins a long line of high-profile defendants who acted as their own attorneys, often with poor results. Serial killer Ted Bundy, Beltway sniper John Allen Muhammed and Army Major Nidal Hasan, who killed 13 people at the Fort Hood military base in Texas, ended up with death sentences.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has said the government is seeking death because of “the nature of the alleged crime and the resulting harm.” Government prosecutors allege Roof talked of starting a race war and posed with the Confederate battle flag before the killings.
At Tuesday’s hearing, Roof participated more than the previous day, sometimes conferring with Bruck and other lawyers but also consistently standing to address U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel. At one point, he suggested the judge explain to prospective jurors that the trial will have two phases, guilt and penalty, an idea with which the judge agreed.