By Dan McCue
(CN) – The federal death penalty trial of the white man charged in the shooting deaths of nine parishioners at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, will begin next Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said the jury of 12 and 6 alternates will be seated by Friday, and opening statements will begin after a pretrial conference scheduled for Monday.
There will be no court on Tuesday, as Gergel granted Roof’s request for an additional day to prepare for the trial.
Roof, a 22-year-old Lexington, South Carolina man, faces a total of 33 federal charges ranging from murder to hate crimes to obstruction of the practice of religion. He is accused of killing the nine parishioners and wounding three others at the Emanuel AME Church with the intent of sparking a race war.
Roof is representing himself in his trial and previously offered to plead guilty if prosecutors agreed to drop their pursuit of the death penalty.
On Thursday, Roof’s former, court-appointed defense team — now reduced to being his legal advisers, petitioned the court for a larger role in the case.
“It should be apparent to everyone observing these one-sided proceedings that despite the defendant’s best efforts, there is much being left unaddressed as jury selection proceeds,” the attorneys wrote.
“The Court’s refusal to exercise the discretion granted it by the Supreme Court to provide the defendant reasonable, limited assistance from standby counsel is, therefore, thwarting rather than promoting justice,” they said.
In this case, they said, “The defendant has no right to represent himself in a capital trial, and even less so at the penalty phase of such a trial,” the attorneys wrote. “As an initial matter, this is because the reliability of the complicated proceeding known to the criminal law … cannot be assured with an untrained layperson — in this case, a 22-year-old ninth-grade dropout with a GED — acting as lead counsel.”
In an order on Wednesday, Gergel said he granted Roof’s request to represent himself at his murder trial because the law did not permit him to do otherwise. However, he called Roof’s desire to do so both “foolhardy” and “very unwise.”
Also on Wednesday, Gergel granted the government’s request that evidence depicting deceased victims at the crime scene not be posted on the court’s website or be made available for copying or download.