CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Jury selection resumes Monday in the case of Dylann Roof, the white man on trial for his life in the Charleston Federal Courthouse for gunning down nine black parishioners during a Bible study at a Charleston church last year.
The 22-year-old Roof is charged with hate crimes, obstruction of religion and other counts in the June 17, 2015, shootings at Emanuel AME Church. It’s the first of two death penalty trials Roof faces stemming from the shootings. A look at what the coming weeks will bring:
LENGTHY JURY SELECTION
Three thousand potential jurors received summonses to report to the federal courthouse back in September. During preliminary screening, that number was whittled down to a pool of 748. After reviewing those questionnaires, attorneys have reduced the pool to 516. Beginning Monday, those remaining in the pool will report back to the courthouse to be questioned about the case individually by the judge.
Once the process produces 70 qualified jurors, they will be presented to attorneys who can then use strikes to dismiss those they don’t want. Twelve jurors and six alternates will be seated. The process could still take several weeks, and court officials say opening statements may not be heard until after Thanksgiving.
A LENGTHY TRIAL
The trial is expected to run into January with breaks over Thanksgiving and Christmas. The trial will be in two phases: the first to decide Roof’s guilt or innocence and, if he is convicted, a second to determine if he should be sentenced to life in prison or death. There is expected to be a break of several days between the innocence and guilt phase and the sentencing phase.
The trial last year of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev took about two months for jury selection, with weather and other delays. The guilt and sentencing phases took almost nine weeks.
FOCUS ON SENTENCING
The focus of the trial is expected to be on the sentencing phase. Defense attorneys have said numerous times during earlier hearings that Roof is willing to plead guilty if the death penalty were taken off the table. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch has said the government is seeking death because of “the nature of the alleged crime and the resulting harm.” Government prosecutors allege Roof talked of starting a race war and posed with the Confederate battle flag before the killings.
FAMILY PRAYING FOR PEACE
With jury selection resuming, Roof’s family released a statement saying, “We are still in anguish and shock that a member of our family could have committed such a terrible, senseless crime. We are still struggling to understand why Dylann caused so much grief and pain.” The statement also said, “We pray that the Emanuel AME families and the Charleston community will find peace.”
ANOTHER TRIAL NEXT YEAR
Roof faces a second death penalty trial early next year in state court, where he faces nine counts of murder. A state judge is ordering 600 prospective jurors to report to the Charleston County Courthouse Jan. 17 for initial screening. His order says the trial will begin on or after Jan. 30. It’s not clear when the federal case will wrap up.
CHARLESTON IN THE SPOTLIGHT
The jury selection in the Roof case resumes as the trial of Michael Slager is underway in the county courthouse across the street. Slager, who is white and a former North Charleston police officer, faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted of murder in the shooting death of Walter Scott, a black man who was shot in the back as he fled from a traffic stop. Community leaders have urged residents to show unity and refrain from violence as the cases are being heard.