In what many view as an attempt to avoid the death penalty, Charleston, South Carolina shooter Dylann Roof, a self-proclaimed white supremacist who confessed to the brutal massacre of nine people at a predominantly black church in June of 2015, has been granted the right to represent himself in court, at his request, by a federal judge on Monday of this week. By acting as his own defense counsel, Roof will have the opportunity to question both the survivors, one of whom was just 11-years-old at the time of the shooting, and family members of the deceased he heartlessly gunned down in what is sure to be a courtroom spectacle devoid of any remorse or empathy for those whose lives were so callously taken while attending a Bible study session at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church.
Charleston Federal District Court Judge Richard M. Gergel declared Roof mentally competent to serve as his own attorney after questioning him for around ten minutes, despite the protestations of his court-appointed lawyers, who had already delayed the jury selection process by three weeks, claiming he was not even competent to stand trial due to his alleged psychological state. Federal prosecutors in the case had previously denied Roof’s offer to plead guilty and accept a life sentence for the 33 felony criminal charges he faces.
Though Judge Gergel advised Roof against representing himself, citing his legal team as being more knowledgeable regarding both the facts and potential consequences surrounding the case, he granted the request upon questioning and reviewing Roof’s psychiatric evaluation that he believed indicated he was stable enough to stand trial sans professional representation under the Sixth Amendment, which, in part, grants a person accused of a crime the right to confront the witnesses accusing them of wrongdoing.
It is a widely accepted opinion the decision to act as one’s own attorney is unwise, as the average layperson is not equipped with the necessary comprehension to properly navigate the complexities of law in a court of justice. According to University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill law professor Eric Mull, “A layperson typically knows none of these crucial things and is therefore in a terrible position to protect himself. The trial judge will have discretion to shape the way in which Roof would handle himself on cross-examination, but there’s no way to prevent the fact (and traumatizing spectacle) of an alleged shooter interrogating his victims.”
One surviving family member, who lost her mother and cousins in the bloody assault, said although she is disheartened by this latest development, she refuses to give Roof the satisfaction of feeling intimidated by his potential behavior during the trial. In a statement provided by Sharon Risher to BuzzFeed News she said, “I continue to pray for the best outcome. My heart continues to ache for all of us. God will help us through all of this. No matter what happens, Roof has no weapon against us who believe.”
Potential jurors continue to be interviewed at this time, with three white women having already been qualified to serve; one of whom, a schoolteacher, replied she believed life in prison was a worse fate than death, stating, “all your freedoms are gone. I mean, you’re a number and you always have to look behind your back.”
This story will be updated as the trial progresses.