Murder trial on hold as S.C. church shooter undergoes competency hearing

Photo: Charleston County Sheriff

Photo: Charleston County Sheriff

CHARLESTON, SC — A judge is delaying jury selection for two weeks in the death penalty trial of a man charged with killing nine people at a Charleston church so his mental competency can be tested.

Federal Judge Richard Gergel issued an order Tuesday saying Dylann Roof is already undergoing the exam. Gergel asked for the results in a week so he can rule before jury selection is scheduled to begin again Nov. 21.

Gergel’s order indicates he decided to order the exam after a defense motion Monday that the judge heard behind closed doors without prosecutors present. Details about the motion have not been released. Jury selection had been scheduled to start Wednesday.

“The Court is mindful that this delay in jury selection may be disappointing to some, but it is the Court’s duty to conduct a fair trial and follow procedures which protect the legal rights of the Defendant. Under the present circumstances, the Court finds this brief delay in jury selection to serve the ends of justice,” the order states, according to CBS affiliate WCSC.

Roof faces a total of 33 federal charges in the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015.

Jury selection began on Monday, but the process ended almost as quickly as it began when Gergel said a last-minute motion required his immediate attention. He scheduled a closed-door motion hearing later that morning that included Roof and his defense team, but was closed to prosecutors and the public.

Gergel said later on Monday he anticipated jury selection would resume Wednesday. Court was not in session Tuesday because of Election Day.

Authorities say Roof killed the nine churchgoers in July 2015 because he hated black people.