Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof to defend himself in court

COLUMBIA, S.C. (CBS News) — Dylann Roof, the main suspect in the shooting deaths of nine parishioners of a black church in Charleston, was granted permission by a judge on Monday to represent himself in his upcoming trial.

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof appears via video before a judge in Charleston, S.C., on Friday, June 19, 2015. (Centralized Bond Hearing Court, of Charleston, S.C. via AP)

CBS Charleston affiliate WCSC-TV reports that Roof, facing 33 charges including hate crime and murder, told U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel that he has reviewed the order that declared him competent to stand trial, and that he felt ready to represent himself.

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Gergel told Roof in court that he felt the decision to be “strategically unwise,” but he ultimately granted Roof permission to represent himself at trial. Roof’s previous attorneys will now serve as stand-by counsel, the judge told the defendant in court.

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The decision to find Roof competent to stand trial and to allow him to represent himself clears the way for jury selection to resume.

The judge had delayed the process of narrowing the final jury pool on Nov. 7 when Roof’s lawyers suggested their client either didn’t understand the charges against him or couldn’t properly help them with his defense. The lawyers did not say what led them to question Roof’s fitness for trial.

In a similarity with the Boston Marathon bombing trial, the key question now will be whether Roof will receive the death penalty in the likely event that he’s convicted, CBS News justice reporter Paula Reid reports.

Roof is charged in federal court with hate crimes, obstruction of religion and other counts in connection with the June 17, 2015, attack at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

At Roof’s competency hearing, Gergel heard testimony from psychologist James Ballenger and four other unnamed witnesses and reviewed sworn statements from three others, the judge wrote in his order.

Roof also has already been found competent in state court, where prosecutors plan a second death penalty trial on nine counts of murder.

According to police, Roof sat through nearly an hour of prayer and Bible study at the church with its pastor and 11 others before pulling a gun from his fanny pack near the end of the class and firing dozens of shots.

Roof hurled racial insults at the six women and three men he is charged with of killing and the three people left alive, authorities said. He said he left the three unharmed so they could tell the world the shootings were because he hated black people.

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