Accused church gunman Dylann Roof to represent himself at federal trial

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CHARLESTON, S.C., Nov 28 (Reuters) - A federal judge on Monday granted a request by Dylann Roof, the white man accused of killing nine black parishioners at a Charleston, South Carolina church last year, to represent himself at his death penalty trial.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said he believed Roof's decision was unwise but ruled in court that the defendant had the right and capacity to serve as his own lawyer.

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Roof faces 33 counts of hate crimes, obstruction of religion and firearms charges stemming from the massacre carried out at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015. Prosecutors will seek the death penalty if he is convicted.

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16 PHOTOS
Charleston SC shooting suspect. Dylann Roof
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Charleston SC shooting suspect. Dylann Roof
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
Photos found on a website that allegedly belongs to church shooting suspect Dylann Roof.
This image has been provided by the Charleston Police Department, Thursday, June 18, 2015. A man opened fire during a prayer meeting inside a historic black church in downtown Charleston, S.C., Wednesday night, June 17, 2015, killing nine people, including the pastor in an assault that authorities are calling a hate crime. The shooter remained at large Thursday. (Photo via Charleston Police Department)
The Emanuel AME Church is viewed behind a police vehicle on June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the Church on the evening of June 17, 2015. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A police officer holds up a tape in front of the Emanuel AME Church June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the church on the evening of June 17, 2015. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A view ofthe Emanuel AME Church is seen June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the church on the evening of June 17, 2015. US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Gergel ruled on Friday that Roof, 22, was mentally competent to stand trial, following concerns raised by defense attorneys about their client's ability to understand the nature of the proceedings against him and to assist in his defense.

That decision paved the way for jury selection to resume on Monday. But, in another twist, Gergel said he then received a motion from Roof seeking to represent himself.

The judge called Roof to the podium and asked him a series of questions about whether he understood the charges and penalties he faced and if his decision was voluntary.

Roof, shackled and dressed in a striped gray and white prison jumpsuit, answered "Yes" or "Yes, sir."

The judge appointed Roof's current lawyers to serve as standby counsel before bringing in the first panel of jurors for questioning.

Lawyers have said it could take about two weeks to pick 12 jurors and six alternates to hear testimony.

(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Bernadette Baum)


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