COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A federal judge quickly denied a request to delay a competency hearing for the white man facing a possible death sentence in the killing of nine black parishioners at a Charleston church.
Federal Judge Richard Gergel on Thursday ordered a psychiatric evaluation of Dylann Roof to take place this weekend and a hearing for Monday. In response, attorneys acting as his standby counsel asked for a delay, suggesting one week. Gergel said no.
In court documents filed later Thursday, the attorneys said they recognize the delay request could be viewed “as a ‘tactic.’ It is not.”
They argue the quick turnaround, over a holiday weekend, is “unreasonable and risks the reliability” of the competency hearing and the sentence.
The documents also reveal why the attorneys sought another exam. Their original request, which again questioned Roof’s mental state, was sealed.
Roof wants to represent himself in the penalty phase of the trial, which the attorneys’ request would have delayed. Gergel’s denial means it’s still set to begin Tuesday before the same jurors who convicted Roof of 33 counts, including hate crimes and obstruction of religion.
Roof, a white supremacist who said he wanted to start a race war, opened fire at historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in June 2015, killing nine people. The emotional testimony earlier this month included two of the three survivors. The massacre occurred after Roof sat with his victims for almost an hour during Bible study.
The attorneys said Roof’s announcement earlier this week that he won’t call any witnesses or present evidence to defend himself from the death penalty suggests he lacks the mental capacity to be his own lawyer.
This “raises in especially stark fashion the question of whether the defendant is actually unable to defend himself,” the document reads.
The standby attorneys note that prosecutors plan to present more than 38 witnesses and hundreds of exhibits.
In his denial, Gergel reminds them he issued a 22-page order Nov. 25 finding Roof competent, following a comprehensive exam and two-day hearing.
“Now, some five weeks later, standby counsel have moved again to challenge defendant’s competency, arguing that ‘new facts’ had emerged,” Gergel writes.
He specifies that the doctor who will evaluate Roof at the Charleston County jail this weekend is the same doctor who evaluated him last time.
Gergel reiterates that he ordered the new exam “out of an abundance of caution,” but makes clear he will not “conduct a ‘redo'” of the last hearing.
Since he’s not hearing any evidence he’s already heard, Gergel said, this one “should not be particularly arduous.” He added that he’s “fully confident” that the attorneys are “fully capable” of being prepared.
On Friday, an attorney for media outlets including The Associated Press filed an objection to Gergel’s proposal to close the competency hearing.
“Closure serves no purpose,” attorney Jay Bender wrote in his objection notice. He adds that Roof “has no privacy rights sufficient to justify exclusion of the public and press.”
Bender also represents The State, The Post and Courier, WCSC, WLTX and National Public Radio.
Gergel will consider objections from Bender and others 30 minutes before Monday’s hearing.
Bender notes Gergel said he closed Roof’s previous competency hearing to protect his right to a fair trial before jury selection. But the jury has since been empaneled.
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