Accused Charleston Church Gunman Pleads Not Guilty

     (CN) – The man accused of murdering nine black church members in Charleston last month pleaded not guilty to a litany of federal hate crime charges Friday morning.
     Dylann Storm Roof is the only suspect in the murder of the church members which occurred during a bible study class at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in downtown Charleston on June 17. The 21 year old was arrested the following morning in North Carolina.
     He was immediately charged in state court of nine counts of murder, three counts of attempted murder and a gun possession charge. He faces trial on those charges next summer.
     But it was almost immediately alleged that Roof’s supposed acts were far from random, and were intended to provide the spark of a race war in the United States.
     On July 22, a federal grand jury indicted Roof on 33 federal charges, including nine murder charges and three attempted murder charges under the Shepard-Byrd Act, a federal hate crime law signed in 2009 that expanded hate crime motivations to include race, gender, or disability.
     Nine murder charges and three attempted murder charges were also filed under another federal law that makes attacking someone based on their religion a hate crime.
     In fact, so voluminous were the charges that it took U.S. Magistrate Judge Bristow Marchant more than 20 minutes to read the indictment.
     Roof, who appeared in court in court in a gray striped prison jumpsuit, confirmed he understood each of the charges, but made no other comment.
     His legal team then entered a not guilty plea on all counts on his behalf, but said their client had briefly considered pleaded guilty, but changed his mind due to uncertainty over his potential fate.
     If convicted, Roof could face penalties of up to life imprisonment or the death penalty; however, neither state nor federal prosecutors has yet decided whether they will pursue the death penalty.
     Friday’s hearing’s was also the first at which Roof was represented by David Bruck, who has been appointed to lead the alleged murderer’s defense.
     Bruck has previously defended such high-profile defendants as Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was sentenced to death earlier this summer, and Susan Smith, the South Carolina mother sentenced to life for drowning her two sons in 1993.
     Meanwhile, on a related note, the two attorneys representing Roof in state court filed a motion Monday, asking for a reprieve from their existing case load to prepare their client’s defense.
     Public defenders Ashley Pennington and William McGuire argue that to prepare an adequate defense, they need ample time to do the work of local, state, and federal investigators, something they argue isn’t possible if they are expected to also maintain their existing caseload.

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