A federal judge has set April 5 as the next date for lawyers to get together to try to determine a trial date for Dylann Roof, the accused killer in last June’s Charleston church slayings.
Judge Richard Gergel also has granted a request by Roof that he be allowed the right not to appear at that hearing.
Since last September, Gergel has held several hearings at his Charleston courtroom, during which he grilled attorneys for Roof and the federal government about when they would be ready to set a trial date. Gergel has also pressed the government on whether it would seek the death penalty against Roof.
Gergel cannot set a trial date until he knows whether federal prosecutors will seek the death penalty. A death penalty trial may take months so requires special scheduling.
In previous hearings, Roof’s defense attorney, David Bruck, has told the judge that Roof is willing to plead guilty if the government will agree not to seek the death penalty. Such a guilty plea hearing likely would take several days, at most, and Roof would receive a sentence of life without parole.
At each of the previous hearings before Gergel, assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson has told the judge the government has not decided whether to seek the death penalty.
At the February hearing, Richardson told Gergel the earliest the government might decide on seeking the death penalty was in early April.
Bruck indicated in February it would take at least several months for the defense to get ready if it faces a full-blown death penalty trial.
In a federal indictment handed down last summer, Roof was charged with the hate crime slayings of nine African-Americans at Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston June 17. Roof, 21, an avowed white supremacist, is from the Columbia area.
Survivors told police Roof sat through an hour-long bible study at the church, then opened fire, killing nine of the 12 people there.
The federal government’s delay in issuing a decision means it is more likely that the state prosecutor, 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, will try Roof first.
Wilson is seeking the death penalty in state court. That trial is scheduled to begin on July 11.
Also on April 5, Gergel will discuss the status of the case against Joey Meek, a friend of Roof’s with whom Roof was staying before last June’s killings.
Meek, 21, is charged with lying to FBI agents about Roof after the shootings as well as concealing knowledge about Roof’s activities from authorities. If convicted, he could face a maximum of eight years in prison. He faces no state charges.