Admitted Charleston church shooter in court as jury selection continues

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)—Admitted Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof requested to be in court as the judge started to pick a jury on Monday.

Jury selection for Dylann Roof’s Federal case started Monday, September 26th. The court summoned 3,000 people specifically from Charleston and Beaufort divisions, which includes the 9 surrounding counties. The court summoned potential jurors in groups of 80 people, 4 rounds a day for a total of 320 people a day. Their goal is to reach 700 people to move to the next phase of the jury selection process.

The process in each round is as follows.

First, the court deputy calls roll using the juror numbers. Each person is asked to stand and say “present” when the deputy calls their number. In each round there are a couple people that do not show; however, not many. The deputy asks the group to stand as a whole to be sworn in because they are under oath during this process.

Second, the judge gives the potential jurors some background information as to why they were called to court. Federal Judge Richard Gergel opens with “We are now in the midst of the midst of jury selection…in the case of the United States v. Dylann Storm Roof.” The judge tells the group about Roof’s 33 Federal charges. Roof faces 12 counts of hate crimes, 12 counts of obstruction of religion and 9 counts of possession of a firearm during the commission of a deadly crime.

Third, the judge gives some information about how the scheduling of the trial will go. He explains that is difficult to predict the length of a trial with any degree of certainty. People who pass the preliminary phase of jury selection are asked to return for Voir Dire on November 7th (the next phase in jury selection where lawyers ask potential jurors more detailed questions). The judge states he plans to break for the Thanksgiving holiday and for testimony to resume sometime after the holiday. He also said that if necessary, they will break again during the Christmas holiday and resume after the new year. At this time, the judge does not plan to sequester the jury (keep them set apart from the rest of the public), which means jurors will be able to return to their homes when court is not in session; however, they will arrange a place to stay for people during the process if they want. For example, the court summoned people from as far as Williamsburg county, which would be quite the haul to go to and from home for this trial in downtown Charleston.

Fourth, the judge gives the jury some instructions as to how the trial will unfold. He says the trial will happen in 2 phases. The first phase will determine whether the jury finds Roof Guilty or not guilty. Roof is presumed “not guilty” and the government must prove his guilt to the jury beyond a reasonable doubt. The second phase will determine whether Roof gets life in prison without the possibility of release or the death penalty. Roof pleads “not guilty” to his 33 Federal counts; however, his lawyers say that if the government takes the death penalty off the table, Roof agrees to plead “guilty.” As it stands, the death penalty is still on the table so Roof’s plea of “not guilty” stands as well.

Fifth, the judge sets some rules for the potential jurors. He tells them that they are to do no external research about the case and then says, “in modern terms, no Googling!” At that remark, there is usually the sounds of quiet laughter from the group. Next, he admonishes them to avoid all media coverage of the case. Also, he tells them they are not to post anything on social media about the scope of their jury duty. Potential jurors are not even allowed to post that they are on a jury on any forms of their social media. The next (and most difficult, in my opinion), they are told not to talk about what happens in the court room to anyone, including family members and even their spouse. The judge points out that the lawyers in the case will present them with all the information they need with regard to this case so they do not need to do any research and they are not to discuss the proceedings with anyone in any capacity.

In warning the potential jurors to avoid external research, the judge acknowledged that he knows most have seen, heard or read something about this case. He says they are not looking for jurors who have heard nothing about the case, they are simply looking to seat a jury who can be fair and impartial when deciding Dylann Roof’s future.

Sixth, the judge asks a series of questions to see if the potential jurors have the legal right exempt out of jury duty. Potential jurors can be exempt from serving for the following reasons:

    1. Active care or custody of a child under the age of 10 whose health or safety would be in jeopardy by service on the jury
    2. Essential care to an elderly person whose health or security would be jeopardized by service on the jury
    3. People over the age of 70 MAY be exempt, but do not have to leave if they want to stay (Gergel points out that some of his best jurors in the past have been people over the age of 70)
    4. People who have served on a Federal Grand or Federal Trial jury in the last 2 years MAY be exempt, but do not have to leave if they want to stay
    5. Services are so essential to a business that such business would need to close or cease to function because of service on the jury
    6. Personal medical conditions that would render a person incapable of completing jury duty
    7. Members of volunteer firefighter teams or rescue squad’s for public entities

After the exemptions phase, the judge reminds people of the rules and gives them an “out” of sorts. He says when your spouses asks you what is happening, you blame me. Say, ‘the judge told me I’m not allowed to talk about it.’ At this there is usually another low chuckle from the crowd.

Finally, the judge tells the jury pool about what is next. He tells them they will be escorted by court staff to another room where they will fill out a more detailed questionnaire. All those who pass this first phase of the jury selection process will return on November 7th for the second phase when the lawyers will be the ones asking the questions. In the second phase, lawyers will narrow down the pool from around 700 people to 12 jurors and 6 alternates. Those people will then be the ones who ultimately decide Dylann Roof’s fate.

During Monday, Day 1, the court exempted 13 people based on the conditions above and there were 7 no-shows. From the roughly 320 people who the court summoned for Monday’s sessions, 300 completed questionnaires, which Gergel called an “amazingly high” rate of return. Some who didn’t show up Monday for qualification came on Tuesday after they were contacted directly, the judge added. “I think we’ve all been pleasantly surprised with the attendance rate,” he said. “We’re making progress on this. The numbers are higher than expected,” said Judge Gergel.

Monday results: 300 questionnaires filled out; 14 jurors excused by Judge Gergel
Tuesday results: 295 questionnaires filled out; 18 jurors excused by Judge Gergel
Two-day total through Tuesday: 595 questionnaires filled out; 32 jurors excused by Judge Gergel

On Tuesday in court, Roof’s stare remained fixed on his lap.

As of the 3 p.m. panel:
Of the 82 potential jurors who were summoned, 81 showed up.
Of the 81, about 63, or 78 percent, were white, and about 18, or 22 percent, were black or another minority.

After nearly doubling the jury pool from 300 on Monday to about 600 on Tuesday, Gergel said he’s confident that the court will reach the necessary 700 people from which to pick Roof’s jury.

“Hopefully,” he said at the end of Tuesday’s proceedings, “we will wrap up this phase tomorrow.”

News 2’s Ashley Yost will in the Federal courthouse for the duration of the jury selection process. No cameras or any kind of video is allowed inside Federal courtrooms so she will tell you what happens on News 2 at 11am, 5pm and 6pm each day. You can also follow her on social media. Twitter: @AshleyWCBD | Facebook: Ashley Yost News 2 | Instagram: AshleyRaeYost. As always, News 2 keeps you updated on our social media. Twitter: @WCBD | Facebook: WCBD News 2.

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