A White man accused of fatally shooting nine Black parishioners at a Charleston church last year was allowed to act as his own attorney in his federal death penalty trial Monday.
Dylann Roof’s request came against his lawyers’ advice, and U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said he would reluctantly accept the 22-year-old’s decision. The move means that Roof could potentially question the survivors of the shooting and the relatives of the people who were killed.
“I do find defendant has the personal capacity to self-representation,” Gergel said. “I continue to believe it is strategically unwise, but it is a decision you have the right to make.”
Death penalty attorney David Bruck then slid over and let Roof take the lead chair. The lawyers can stand by and help Roof if he asks.
The development came the same day jury selection resumed in the case. The selection process was halted Nov. 7 after lawyers for Roof questioned his ability to understand the case against him. Judge Gergel’s ruling last week cleared the way for Monday’s process to begin anew.
Roof, 22, is charged with counts including hate crimes and obstruction of religion in connection with the June 17, 2015, attack at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
According to police, Roof sat through nearly an hour of prayer and Bible study at the church with its pastor and 11 others before pulling a gun from his fanny pack and firing dozens of shots.
Roof shouted racial insults at the six women and three men he is charged with killing and the three people left alive, authorities said. Roof said he left the three unharmed so they could tell the world the shootings were because he hated black people. He faces a possible death sentence if convicted.
He also faces the death penalty in state court where he is charged with nine counts of murder, three counts of attempted murder and a firearms felony. That trial is set to begin in mid-January.
With reporting by Associated Press
An earlier version of this story appears on JETMag.com.