Dylann Roof To Represent Himself In Charleston Church Shooting Trial

Nov 28, 2016
Originally published on November 28, 2016 6:28 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There was a major development today in the trial of Dylann Roof. He's the 22-year-old accused of killing nine black parishioners last year at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Today the judge granted Roof's request to represent himself in the trial. Alexandra Olgin of South Carolina Public Radio has been in the courthouse and joins us now. Hi there.

ALEXANDRA OLGIN, BYLINE: Hello.

SHAPIRO: Tell us about what happened in the courtroom this morning.

OLGIN: So just as court was about to restart, the judge said that Roof had expressed his desire to represent himself. He did this in a short motion. It was just one sentence. He said he wished to discharge his court-appointed attorneys and represent himself.

Today he's in a gray and white striped prison jumpsuit, and he stepped up to the podium and spoke directly to the judge. The judge asked him questions like, do you know what you're doing? Do you understand the consequences? Are you doing it voluntarily? And to all those questions, he just answered yes.

SHAPIRO: Does this speak to the question of Dylann Roof's mental competency? I know there was a hearing on that subject last week.

OLGIN: Yeah. The judge just ruled on Friday that he is mentally competent to stand trial. This came after a two-day closed-door hearing where a court-appointed psychologist and other witnesses and affidavits were entered into testimony.

Now, we don't have any details from that hearing because it was closed to the public, and transcripts have not been released. But it's clear that the mental competency hearing which was called by his defense team is probably somewhat related to his decision to represent himself.

SHAPIRO: How does the fact that he'll be representing himself change the dynamics of this trial going forward?

OLGIN: Well, Dylann Roof who police say sat with parishioners for about an hour before shooting and killing nine of them - he can now give his own opening statements. He can address potential jurors and even witnesses. So there were three people that survived the attack that night at the Bible study, and some of those people could be potential witnesses.

And the prosecution has described Roof as a self-avowed white supremacist. And police say he did utter a racial epithet before leaving the church that night. And he will now be able to actually address the people he tried to kill. Some of the family members of the victims have been in court today, and more say they plan to be present at the trial.

SHAPIRO: What about his former defense lawyers who he effectively Have we heard from them?

OLGIN: We have not heard from them. The lead attorney on his case is David Bruck. He worked on the defense team for Boston marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. So today the judge appointed him and the other attorneys as standby counsel. We're kind of unsure what that means, but they are sitting next to Roof.

Now, they did slide over, so now Roof is at the head of the defense table. And he kind of is leaning back in his prison garb and looking a little bit nonchalant. He sometimes leans over and talks to Bruck. Bruck has tried to object to one potential juror on Roof's behalf, but the judge said he couldn't do that. You know, Roof's representing himself. This is now his choice.

And Roof has really not said much about the jurors. At one point, he agreed that one should be struck. He objected to another. But for the most part, he has just sort of agreed passively with the judge. Now, we should point out that defendants in other high-profile cases have represented themselves before. One of the most infamous was serial killer Ted Bundy, who was found guilty and executed for his crimes.

SHAPIRO: That's Alexandra Olgin of South Carolina Public Radio speaking with us from the federal courthouse in Charleston, S.C., where the trial of Dylann Roof is taking place. Thanks, Alexandra.

OLGIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.