Accused Charleston Church Gunman Found Competent to Stand Trial

By DAN MCCUE

(CN) – The white South Carolina man accused of killing nine black parishioners and wounding three others in an historic Charleston church is competent to stand trial, a federal judge ruled Friday morning.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel interrupted jury selection in the death-penalty trial of Dylann Roof on Nov. 7, citing concerns about the competency of the accused raised by his court-appointed defense attorneys.

Gergel appointed Dr. James Ballenger to examine Roof, and received his evaluation on Nov. 15. The court then conducted a competency hearing behind closed doors on Nov. 21 and 22.

In a three-page compentency issued Friday, Gergel said during those hearings he “received testimony and voluminous documents and other information related to the issue of competency.”

“This included the live testimony of Dr. Ballenger and four other witnesses and the testimony by sworn affidavits of three additional persons,” Gergel said. “After carefully considering the record before the Court, the relevant legal standards, and the arguments of counsel, the Court now finds and concludes that the Defendant is competent to stand trial.”

Gergel said the finding of facts and other conclusions on Roof’s competency would be filed under seal Friday morning.

He explained that he was doing so “based upon the Court’s determination that the public disclosure of that document at this time would prejudice Defendant’s rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and place in jeopardy the Defendant’s right to select a fair and impartial jury and to a fair trial. ”

Jury selection in the case will resume on Monday, November 28.

Roof, 22, has been indicted on 33 federal counts related to the nine murders he is alleged to have committed in June 2015.

He is accused of walking into a Wednesday night Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston and, after spending an hour with his victims, opening fire and killing them.

After his arrest the following day in North Carolina he purportedly told sheriff’s deputies that he committed the crime in the hope that it would start a race war.

Roof has offered to please guilty to all 33 counts if the government agrees to spare his life, but federal prosecutor are seeking the death penalty.

Roof also faces a death-penalty trial in state court.

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