State and national media organizations, including The State newspaper, are opposing a possibly secret court hearing Thursday that could decide whether Dylann Roof goes to trial or to a mental facility for an undetermined amount of time.
The Associated Press, National Public Radio, The State Media Co., as well as Charleston’s Post & Courier newspaper and WCSC-TV are fighting a closed-door hearing on the accused hate criminal’s mental state.
Roof, 22, of Columbia, an avowed white supremacist, is accused in a federal indictment of killing nine African-Americans in a mass shooting in June 2015 at a historic downtown Charleston church. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Thursday’s hearing will determine whether U.S. Judge Richard Gergel orders Roof’s trial, now scheduled to begin Nov. 21 with jury selection, will go on as scheduled or postponed indefinitely.
Gergel had intended to hold the hearing on Wednesday, but late Monday afternoon, the court announced it would begin Thursday at 9:30 a.m.
The five news organizations are joining federal prosecutors, who last week filed a lengthy motion opposing the closing of Roof’s competency hearing.
All of the media outlets except WCSC-TV are represented by well-known First Amendment attorney Jay Bender, of Columbia, who for decades has represented The State, the S.C. Press Association and other media outlets.
The Charleston television station is represented by Greenville attorney Carl Muller, who has long experience with news media on openness issues.
Roof’s defense team, led by anti-capital punishment attorney David Bruck, has filed lengthy motions urging that the competency hearing be closed. They asserted that to publicly air issues concerning Roof’s mental fitness would jeopardize his right to a fair trial.
They also have asked for a delay in the trial start date, claiming that Roof’s competency issues need more time to be considered.
Last week, Gergel closed an initial hearing concerning Roof’s mental fitness to stand trial. At that hearing, from which the public and government prosecutors were excluded, Gergel ordered that Roof’s mental fitness be evaluated by an independent medical specialist.