Charleston Church Shooter Dylann Roof Is Mentally Competent, Judge Rules

Dylann Storm Roof, a self-described white supremacist, shot and killed nine people at a historic black church in June last year.Reuters

Charleston shooter Dylann Roof is competent to conduct his own defence against being sentenced to death, a US district judge has ruled.

The white supremacist murdered nine black men and women in an attack at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015. He had taken part in a Bible study with those he killed.

Among the dead was senior pastor and state senator Clementa Pinckney. In a confession video played to the jury Roof said he hated black people and wanted to ignite a race war.

Roof was found guilty last month of 33 federal charges including murder, attempted murder, hate crimes and the obstruction of the practice of religion. Now a jury has to decide whether to spare his life or to opt for the death penalty.

Judge Richard Gergel ruled yesterday that Roof could conduct his own defence in the sentencing phase, though Roof said last week he planned to call no witnesses and present no evidence. The prosecution is expected to call up to 38 relatives of those who died at Charleston and three survivors.

Roof will be banned from approaching any of them during the hearing and will be seated as far from them as possible.

The judge's decision went against Roof's own standby lawyers, who had previously been fired by him – because, they claimed, he was afraid they would present evidence that would embarrass him by referring to mental health issues in an attempt to save his life.

If Roof is sentenced to death it is likely to be years before the sentence is carried out because of the lengthy appeals process. The federal government has not executed anyone since 2003 and South Carolina has not executed anyone since 2011.

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