By Frederick H. Lowe
Jury selection will begin November 21st in the trial of Dylann Roof, a white supremacist, charged in the 2015 murders of nine parishioners attending Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal, a historic black church in downtown Charleston, S. C. It was scheduled to begin Monday, but U.S. District Court Judge Mark Richard Gergel, who was appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama, delayed jury selection at the request of Roof’s lawyers to allow a competency evaluation of Roof, according to court documents.
Twelve jurors will be selected from a pool of 700 people. The U.S. Justice Department is seeking the death penalty for the 22-year-old Roof who shot the parishioners on June 17, 2015, during Bible study.
Roof, who sat for an hour with Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal parishioners before firing his gun, a Glock. 45 caliber pistol, said he killed them to incite a race war. The pistol was loaded with eight magazines of hollow-point bullets.
He has pleaded not guilty to the charges. Federal prosecutors have charged him with the Hate Crimes Act Resulting in Death, Hate Crime Act Involving an Attempt to Kill, Obstruction of Exercise of Religion Resulting in Death, Obstruction of Exercise of Religion Involving an Attempt to Kill and Use of a Dangerous Weapon and Use of a Firearm to Commit Murder During and In Relation to a Crime of Violence, according to the 15-page indictment.
In addition, he faces state murder charges bought by South Carolina, which also is seeking the death penalty. That trial is scheduled to begin in January.
While in jail, Dwayne Stafford, a 26-year-old black inmate, beat Roof. The beating occurred in August.
Families of the victims are suing the FBI for negligence for agency’s failure to prevent Roof from buying the pistol because he previously admitted to possessing a controlled substance. The FBI has sought to dismiss the lawsuit.
Roof’s trial is being held across the street from former North Charleston, S. C., police officer Michael Slager who shot to death Walter Scott following an April 4, 2015, traffic stop. Slager murdered Scott by shooting him several times in the back as he ran away. The deadly shooting was captured on cell phone video and shown around the world.
Feiden Santana, who filmed the deadly shooting, testified during the trial’s first day that prior to the shooting there wasn’t a struggle between Scott and Slager.
A jury of mostly white men and white women heard opening arguments and first-day testimony last week in Slager ‘s trial. One black man is on the jury.
This story has been updated.