The mental state of Dylann Roof of Columbia, an avowed white supremacist, has emerged as a key issue in his upcoming federal death penalty trial for killing nine African-American church members.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers discussed procedural issues connected to Roof’s state of mind at a hearing Monday before U.S. Judge Richard Gergel without revealing details about what conditions he might have.
Roof, 22, is scheduled to go on trial Nov. 7 for the hate crime killings at Mother Emanuel AME church in Charleston.
Before the June 2015 church shootings, Roof published a manifesto on the Internet in which he said he was going to start a race war.
His state of mind would come into play when jurors deliberate whether to recommend the death penalty or life in prison without parole.
His lead attorney, David Bruck, has repeatedly said Roof will plead guilty in return for a sentence of life without parole.
That offer came after Roof confessed to law enforcement to killing the nine parishioners during a Bible study meeting, with evidence against him also appearing to be overwhelming. The gun that Roof is said to have used has been recovered.
Much of the hearing was devoted to discussing when and how much of the results of separate pre-trial mental tests of Roof conducted by the prosecutors and defense lawyers would be divulged to each other in advance of the death penalty phase of the trial.
Evidence offered by defense lawyers against the death penalty is called “mitigation” evidence. Much of that, according to the discussion and filings, will revolve around results of current and future mental health tests of Roof.
Bruck agreed when Gergel asked “Am I right to say they (Roof’s mitigation defenses) would fall under the broad umbrella of mental health issues?”
It is unknown what type of mental health issues will be presented at trial.
As part of the pre-trial jockeying by opposing lawyers, the timing of when to give mental health test results to the other side is a key issue.
Gergel ordered mental health examinations to be videotaped, but said he will decide later whether to delete some sections of video – as opposed to the audio – if thought to infringe on Roof’s right to a fair trial.
Jury selection is scheduled to start Nov. 7. The trial is expected to go through Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons.
Roof, who waived his right to appear in court Monday, is scheduled to go to trial in state court in mid-January. Solicitor Scarlett Wilson is also seeking the death penalty on murder charges.
Gergel ordered Monday that the jury pool in the upcoming federal trial will be drawn from an area roughly south of a line from Georgetown County on the coast to Aiken County.
More than 20 relatives of those killed were at the hearing.