Crime & Courts

Federal prosecutors want statewide jury pool in Roof case

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof

Defense lawyers for accused Charleston church killer Dylann Roof may try to “derail the trial” now set for Nov. 7 unless the judge in the case orders that the jury be picked from a statewide pool, according to court filings by federal prosecutors in the case.

“The government requests this Court use a (pool of potential jurors drawn from across South Carolina),” federal prosecutors said in filings made over the holiday weekend. Prosecutors said their reason is “to ensure that the scheduled trial not be interrupted.”

Up to now, the jury in Roof’s case was expected to have been selected from a Lowcounty jury pool, whose members would come from Charleston and eight other coastal-area counties. Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

In their most recent prosecutorial filing, assistant U.S. attorneys Jay Richardson and Nathan Williams tell U.S. Judge Richard Gergel that defense attorneys could make “an 11th-hour attempt” to change from a Lowcounty jury pool to a statewide pool. That could delay the trial, prosecutors contend.

Also, prosecutors said, they were also worried that defense lawyers might make a last-minute request to changes the trial’s location, now set for Charleston, to another place in the state.

However, if Roof’s defense lawyers waive their right to any challenge to having a trial in Charleston with the Lowcounty jury pool, prosecutors won’t object, the government’s filing said.

The government’s filing also stressed that, without a statewide jury pool, it may be harder to pick “a fair and impartial” jury because, “Most of the parishioners who were murdered and those who survived Roof’s attack ... have strong ties to the Charleston area,” the prosecutors’ filing said.

Gergel is slated to hold a hearing on July 18 in Charleston on the site and manner of jury selection.

The federal government is seeking the death penalty for Roof, 22, an avowed white supremacist from Columbia who is alleged to have shot and killed nine African-American parishioners during a Bible study in June 2015 at a downtown Charleston church.

Death penalty trials are far more complex than normal criminal trials. It is normal for lawyers on both sides to vigorously debate pretrial procedures such as jury selection because those procedures may dictate the trial’s outcome. In a death penalty trial, a “no” by just one out of 12 jurors means a life sentence for the defendant. Death sentences must be unanimous.

Late Tuesday, Roof’s defense team filed a 34-page motion urging Gergel to dismiss last year’s federal indictment of Roof that has led to federal prosecutors seeking the death penalty. Defense attorneys based their motion on numerous constitutional grounds, including that “the statutes on which it is based exceed the authority of the federal government.”

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