(CN) – In a move a federal judge called “unwise,” self-avowed white supremacist and suspected church shooter Dylann Roof opted to represent himself in his federal murder and hate-crimes trial.
Roof is accused of murdering nine black people and wounding three others during a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17, 2015.
He said his purpose was to incite a race war. He was indicted on 33 charges, including murder and violations of federal hate-crime laws.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel allowed Roof to act as his own attorney after Roof unexpectedly filed the request on Monday morning, as jury selection was set to begin.
Roof told the judge he wanted defense attorney David Bruck to act as “stand-by counsel” and wants Bruck to sit at the defense table with him.
Roof, 22, will potentially question shooting survivors and victims’ family members who will likely take the stand during the course of the federal trial.
Judge Gergel cautioned Roof about representing himself, but stated he has the constitutional right to do so.
“I do find the defendant has the personal capacity for self representation. I continue to believe it is strategically unwise, but it is a decision you have the right to make,” the judge said Monday.
Gergel ruled Friday that Roof is mentally competent to stand trial.
The jury selection process, which began at 10 a.m. Monday, was delayed for three weeks after a closed-door meeting with Roof’s defense team earlier this month.
Several motions and documents that have been filed are sealed, including the competency hearing transcripts. Gergel said sealing the documents and competency hearing was necessary to ensure Roof’s right to a fair trial is protected.
There are more than 500 prospective jurors in the pool, who will be filtering into the court room in groups of 10.
Only two groups will be interviewed each day at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Attorneys will question the prospective jurors until they assemble a group of 70 individuals. The final jury will be comprised of 12 jurors and six alternates.
Roof is facing the death penalty in both the federal trial and a separate state trial.
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