Hundreds of jurors report in church massacre trial
Charleston, S.C. — Dylann Roof generally avoided eye contact Monday with the potential jurors who could give him a death sentence if they convict him of the Charleston church massacre.
Some 3,000 potential jurors were summoned and the first 160 reported to the courthouse in the city’s historic district by midday Monday for their initial screening.
Roof is standing trial on charges of hate crimes and obstruction of religion in the slaying of nine black parishioners during a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in June 2015. He faces 33 federal counts; prosecutors allege he had talked of starting a race war before the killings and posed for online photos with the Confederate battle flag.
The jurors are being brought into court during the coming days in groups of 80 for initial screening and by midday Monday about 160 had reported.
When the first group arrived, Roof, 22, was wearing a striped prison jumpsuit. Later he appeared in a blue cable-knit sweater and gray slacks, sitting between his attorneys at a table facing the jury pool.
Courthouse security was tight. About a dozen Department of Homeland Security personnel were at the entrances, while two of the agency’s vans were parked on the street. A court spokesman said some of the potential jurors were brought to the courthouse by bus after meeting at another location.
But the high-profile case began quietly, and a courtroom set aside for the public had only about two dozen people, most of them reporters.
Several potential jurors from the first panel were excused from serving or had their jury service deferred. The remaining jurors were then escorted to another room where they were asked to fill out a detailed questionnaire about what they know about the Roof case.
Individual questioning of jurors begins in early November.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said testimony probably would not start until late November or early December. He told the jurors they will not be sequestered and there will be no court sessions over Thanksgiving or Christmas.
He said that while some people think jury service is a burden, he said “it’s an honor to be an American citizen and it’s an honor to be a juror.”
He added that while the potential jurors have not heard any testimony, they should avoid any news coverage of the case and not discuss it with anyone or try to do their own research.
Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty. Roof’s attorneys say he is willing to plead guilty and serve life if the death penalty is taken off the table.
Roof also faces nine murder charges in state court in a trial that is set to begin next year. The state is also seeking the death penalty.
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