Lexington, SC (WLTX) -The man accused of shooting and killing nine people at a Charleston church is representing himself in the federal death penalty trial against him.
Dylann Roof is his own lead attorney and is assisting in jury selection and will be questioning witnesses.
We spoke with criminal defense attorney Jack Duncan. Duncan has been the lead attorney in six South Carolina death penalty trials.
Duncan says this is rare for a case of this magnitude but says it’s a fundamental right for defendants to be able to represent themselves.
He says Roof is at a huge disadvantage.
“Mr. Roof is not well-educated. He apparently has a GED. He has no real knowledge of the law or even basic psychology and that's a big part of being a defense attorney,” Duncan explained. “If Mr. Roof is polite. He’s contrite. He is not ideological, doesn’t give speeches then it can humanize him but the gravity of the crimes of course is going to weigh heavily on any juror.”
Duncan says Roof's desire to represent himself could be the reason for the competency hearing that delayed jury selection. The jury selection process was delayed earlier this month after Roof's competency was in question. Judge Richard Gergel's ruled last week that Roof is competent.
“There's obviously conflict between his attorneys and Mr. Roof and what they see as a victory may not be what he sees as a victory,” Duncan said. “Defendants are suspicious of their attorneys of being a part of the system and the system that's going to railroad them to whatever sentence and so since the defendants have lost control of their life, by being designated to represent themselves then they regain some control.”
The expert says even if with this twist the trial will still go on and he doubts this is a delay tactic.
“The government is entitled as is the defendant to a jury trial and the only way that the defendant can address the imposition of the death penalty is in front of a jury,” Duncan said. “He has no expertise in the law and he doesn't really have a whole lot of life experience either.”
Back in 2003, “the DC Sniper,” John Allen Muhammed, who was responsible for several murders in the DC area represented himself for two days in his capital murder case before turning things back over to his defense attorneys.
Duncan says if Roof decided to step down, the judge would have to decide how to move forward.
Duncan however says he doesn't think this will be the case.
Roof, 22, is charged with counts including hate crimes and obstruction of religion in the Emanuel AME Church shootings. It's the first of two death penalty trials he faces.
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