Judge: Roof jury will be local

Attorney Andy Savage, who represents several victims of the Emanuel AME Church shooting, speaks with journalists Monday outside U.S. District Court in Charleston.

The 12 jurors who decide Dylann Roof’s fate should be residents of the Charleston region, a federal judge said Monday.

Fearing the defense would later ask for the trial to be moved to a different courthouse, prosecutors in the death penalty case had asked U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel to summon prospective jurors from across South Carolina instead of the nine-county local area.

But in settling the issue during a hearing in downtown Charleston, Gergel noted that the defense had no plans to seek such a change of venue.

“It would take an unusual ... situation” to use a statewide jury pool, the judge said.

The afternoon hearing was an opportunity for opposing attorneys to air concerns over nine legal issues that must be sorted out before the Nov. 7 trial. The jury pool was chief among them.

Roof, 22, is charged with 33 federal counts, including hate crimes and religious rights charges, in the June 2015 shooting deaths of nine worshippers at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church. The Eastover resident also faces a capital trial in January on state murder charges.

Attorneys in the case essentially agreed that the jurors should come from the Charleston area. The weeks-long trial would be less taxing on locals. But the defense refused to bar the possibility of wanting the trial moved in case an impartial jury cannot be picked, and that gave prosecutors some pause.

“We are happy with a Charleston-area jury,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson said Monday. “The primary concern is a last-minute attempt to challenge the venue.”

Roof’s lead lawyer, David Bruck, again refused to rule out the move. But such a request could derail the speedy trial that the defense has sought.

Opinion polling after the shooting revealed slightly less support for the death penalty in the Lowcountry than in other parts of the state. But to qualify as a juror, people must be willing to consider the punishment.

Andy Savage, an attorney who represents several of the survivors and victims’ families, said Monday’s ruling was a win for jurors who won’t have to travel from faraway places.

“The biggest impact is on the jurors,” he told reporters outside the courthouse. “I’m not so certain it makes any difference. This case is international.”

Gergel also took up opposing motions on other pretrial procedures. Those were:

The judge will lead the questioning of prospective jurors during the “voir dire” process, with input from attorneys. Bruck sought heavier involvement by the attorneys.

Attorneys will record their peremptory strikes, or dismissals of jury candidates without stating a reason, on a list instead of doing so during questioning.

The prosecutors won’t have access to their expert’s mental health evaluation of Roof until the trial’s penalty phase. They had sought a disclosure to an independent attorney.

Roof’s defense team won’t be required to give prosecutors a summary of its expert witnesses’ testimony until after a conviction. That would amount to a “cheat sheet,” Gergel said.

The defense must hand over Roof’s prior medical records for the sake of the prosecutions’ mental health examination.

The prosecution should give advance notice of specific mental health testing so the judge can offer some “oversight.” Bruck promised not to “coach” his client for the exam.

Evaluations should be videotaped to ensure “validity,” Gergel said, but not to provide more evidence to the government.

“It’s a shield, not a sword,” he said.

The judge said he needed more time to think about whether to require the defense to reveal mitigating factors — qualities that support Roof’s plea for a life sentence over death — that are not tied to mental health. Gergel said he was leaning toward such a requirement, but it’s a matter of when that should happen “so that everybody can be prepared for trial.”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 843-937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.