Federal trial of accused Charleston church gunman set for November – Washington Post

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Dylann Storm Roof during a court appearance last year. (AP)

The federal trial of Dylann Roof, the man accused of killing nine black parishioners at a Charleston, S.C., church last year, is scheduled to begin in November.

A judge said during a hearing Thursday that the trial would begin on Nov. 7, according to a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Carolina.

This announcement of the trial’s start date was made just days before the first anniversary of the massacre, which unfolded during a Bible study session at the historic “Mother Emanuel” church. The Justice Department said last month that it would seek a death sentence for Roof, who was indicted last summer on federal hate crime charges after being indicted on murder charges by a grand jury in the state.

Roof is now facing a possible death sentence in both the federal and state trials, which have been delayed multiple times and are currently set to occur within a period of several weeks, though the state’s trial is expected to be rescheduled.

[Why the Justice Department said it will seek a death sentence in this case]

The federal trial was pushed back while the Justice Department weighed whether it would seek a rare sentence under the federal death penalty statute. Ultimately, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said in a statement she decided to seek a death sentence because “the nature of the alleged crime and the resulting harm compelled this decision.”

The 33-count federal indictment against Roof alleges that he picked the “Mother Emanuel” church in Charleston because of its larger renown and significance. In addition to killing people due to their race, the indictment states, he attacked people who were exercising their religious beliefs.

Federal prosecutors said that Roof, who is white, carried out a racially-motivated attack. Roof “demonstrated a lack of remorse,” they argued in a filing, and targeted the church’s Bible study group to “magnify the societal impact” of the rampage.

Under the federal death penalty statute, a victim’s youth or old age can be an aggravating factor warranting a fatal sentence. In their filing, prosecutors pointed to the fact that three of the victims were between the ages of 70 and 87.

[Remembering the Charleston church shooting victims]

Days after the massacre, authorities said they determined that Roof had posted a racist manifesto on his Web site, filled with racial stereotypes and diatribes against black, Jewish and Hispanic people. The site, which included photos of Roof holding a .45-caliber Glock pistol and a Confederate flag, was last modified just hours before the shooting attack.

It remains unclear how Roof will ultimately plead in the federal case. While David Bruck, an attorney for Roof, had said he would plead guilty to the federal hate crime charges, he also said he could not properly advise Roof until the Justice Department made a decision about the death penalty. A “not guilty” plea was entered by a judge at a hearing last summer.

The state’s trial, meanwhile, has been pushed back to January 2017 after attorneys for Roof argued they needed time for a psychiatric evaluation. Jury selection was set for Dec. 5, less than a month after the federal hate crimes trial is now scheduled to begin.

However, in a filing last month, Scarlett A. Wilson, prosecutor for Charleston County, said the state had asked for a new schedule and was told it would receive that, though no new date has been announced.

A spokeswoman for Wilson did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

In another case stemming from the shooting, Joey Meek — a friend with whom Roof stayed in the weeks before the rampage — recently pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI and concealing his knowledge of the crimes. Meek had told The Washington Post that before the church shooting, Roof had spoken about going to the church and doing “something crazy.”

Further reading:

The federal government cannot actually execute anybody right now

‘I forgive you.’ Relatives of Charleston church shooting victims address Roof

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