CHARLESTON, S.C. (USA Today) The 22-year-old man convicted of gunning down nine black parishioners in June 2015 will offer no defense next month as a jury considers whether he should be sentenced to life in prison or face execution.
Dylann Roof will make an opening statement when the sentencing phase of the trial resumes Jan. 3, he said Wednesday (Dec. 28) as part of a hearing in the case of the mass killing at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the nation’s oldest historically black houses of worship.
“At this point I’m not intending to offer any evidence at all or call any witnesses,” Roof said, addressing Judge Richard Gergel of U.S. District Court, adding he made the statement for the benefit of federal prosecutors who are pursuing the death penalty against him.
“Well, don’t do them any favors,” Gergel told the defendant, who appeared in the striped uniform of the Charleston jail as well as handcuffs and leg shackles.
As the case moves to the sentencing phase, Roof, a self-described white supremacist, will serve as his own lawyer, a decision made against the advice of his defense team because of mental health evidence.
Court documents and statements indicate Roof’s lawyers had sought to present psychologists and psychiatrists who would testify that Roof suffers from an undisclosed mental defect.
Roof has opposed that move.
Gergel, while finding Roof competent to serve as his own lawyer, repeatedly has urged Roof to reinstate his defense team and again asked that he reconsider his “bad decision” to represent himself.
Gergel will allow Roof to reverse course on self-representation until the sentencing phase begins.
“Will you at least promise me you’ll talk to your granddad and lawyers and your family before you make this decision?” Gergel asked Roof, whose grandfather is a lawyer.
“Yes,” Roof answered.
At the request of his defense team, in November Roof had a closed competency hearing to determine whether he was capable of moving forward with the trial. The hearing included testimony from several mental health experts.
After those proceedings, Gergel determined Roof could represent himself, but the evidence that was presented has not been disclosed.
On Wednesday, Roof told Gergel he wanted that hearing to remain under seal, saying that making public those items defeats the purpose of his self-representation. Courts typically make public the competency hearings after a criminal proceeding has closed, Gergel said.
A pending state death-penalty case against Roof complicates if and when that information might be released.
Prosecutors indicated their case will include the lead FBI agent and likely more than 30 family members of victims.
As part of the sentencing phase, jurors will be asked to consider aggravating factors, such as lack of remorse and amount of harm to the victims, against mitigating factors, such as the defendant’s age and mental capacity, as they determine which punishment Roof should receive.
During Wednesday’s hearing, prosecutors agreed to stipulate to mitigating factors, including that Roof has no criminal conviction history and that he offered to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence.