Death-Penalty Decision on Church Shooting Headed to Jury

(CN) – Prosecutors and standby attorneys for convicted Charleston church gunman Dylann Roof spoke with U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel for two hours on Monday afternoon, hashing out the charge jurors will be given when they are handed the task of deciding the killer’s fate tomorrow morning.

Prosecutors rested their case against Roof Monday after four days of testimony. The jury was then dismissed for the day so the lawyers could participate in a charging conference with Gergel and discuss the instructions the 10 women and two men on the jury will receive Tuesday after the presentation of closing arguments.

Roof was convicted on December 15, 2016, of all 33  federal charges he faced stemming from the shooting deaths of nine black parishioners during a June 2015 Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

While his standby counsel represented him during the guilt phase of his trial, Roof represented himself during the penalty phase, and that proved to be the main point of contention Monday afternoon as the defense attorneys who were sidelined the past four days once again tried to intervene on the gunman’s behalf.

For the second time in less than a week, David Bruck of the Washington and Lee School of Law argued Roof is incapable of representing himself and that standby counsel should be allowed to present mental health testimony as part of the closing statements on Tuesday.

Gergel rejected the motion saying both that Bruck had no standing to submit it and that it any event, it was contrary to Roof’s right to defend himself in light of two hearings at which he was deemed competent to do so.

“We’re going to respect the process,” he said.

Roof himself asked Gergel about his plan to unseal documents after the trial, and specifically about how he can participate in the process of redacting certain details in those documents – particularly as regards his mental health.

Gergel said he wants to get the jury’s sentencing decision out of the way before he weighs Roof’s concerns about redaction against the “strong public interest” in the case.

Next, Roof submitted a motion outlining the “mitigating factors” he wants to present to the jury before they get the case. Prosecutor Jay Richardson argued the list of factors was actually a series of arguments, some of which stray into Roof’s beliefs about race and go far beyond addressing the evidence presented in the case.

Among the arguments Roof wanted to make that didn’t hinge on race was that as a human being, he’s “entitled to his life.”

Gergel agreed with Richardson and said Roof will told to stay on topic before he makes any closing argument at the trial.

When the prosecutor continued to express concern about Roof’s closing statement, the judge sought to reassure him.

“I’ll be listening,” Gergel said, promising to keep Roof on track.

The jury will be given a choice of sentencing Roof to death or to life in prison without the possibility of parole. However, the decision to impose the death penalty must be unanimous. If it’s not, and if the jury doesn’t opt for life without parole instead, Judge Gergel said Roof will automatically receive the life sentence.

The judge said he will rule on any outstanding issues left over from the charging conference Tuesday morning before closing arguments get underway.

The government’s final witnesses on Monday were three relatives of Tywanza Sanders, the youngest victim of the June 2015 shootings at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.

Felicia Sanders, who survived the attack during a Bible study session, said her son was a creative young man who was dedicated to Emanuel. Sanders had previously testified that as the massacre was occurring her wounded son raised himself up from the floor and asked Roof “Why are you doing this?”

Roof then shot Tywanza Sanders dead.

The young man’s father, Tyrone Sanders, spoke movingly of his close bond with his son, and said he missed the fishing trips they took together.

Roof is representing himself and did not cross-examine any witnesses.

He has also said he won’t call any witnesses on his behalf, but his request for a recess caused a stir in the courtroom and among the reporters covering the trial from a nearby media room.

When the trial resumed, Roof made a motion about aggravating factors in the case, but U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel denied them motion.

The judge did, however, advise Roof that he has a right to testify on his own behalf.

“I do not wish to testify,” Roof said.

 

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