A federal judge has ruled that a hearing to assess the mental competence of accused Charleston church killer Dylann Roof will be closed to the public.
Judge Richard Gergel moved the hearing from Thursday to Monday, but set aside time Thursday for media lawyers and others to weigh in if they object to the closure of the Monday hearing.
The State newspaper, the Associated Press, The Post and Courier of Charleston, NPR and WCSC-TV, as well as prosecutors, have all asked the hearing be kept open.
This delay all but ensures Roof’s upcoming death penalty trial will spill over into January.
If, after Monday’s hearing, Gergel finds Roof competent to stand trial, the judge will likely not be able to start jury selection until the first part of December.
Since jury selection will take an estimated three to four weeks, and Gergel has already indicated court will recess during the Christmas holiday period, that would push the start of trial testimony to January.
Roof, who is charged with murder in the shooting deaths of nine parishioners at Emanuel AME Church, is represented by court-appointed lawyer David Bruck, nationally known for his success in death penalty trials.
Ten days ago, as jury selection was about to start, Bruck and a team of skilled anti-death penalty lawyers mounted a multipronged legal assault that claimed Roof is not competent to stand trial. Gergel appointed an independent medical competency evaluator to assess Roof’s fitness.
Federal prosecutors, in legal filings, assert Roof’s mental competency hearing should be open and that Roof is fit to stand trial.
Under the law, a criminal defendant must be able to understand the proceedings against him and assist in his defense.