Roof must provide samples of his writing

Dylann Roof appears at a court hearing in Charleston on Thursday. Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson has ordered the 21-year-old to provide handwriting samples to investigators.

Notes and lists thought to have been written by Dylann Roof could help investigators prove a motive behind the deadly attack on black worshippers at a Charleston church last month, according to court records.

Federal agents already have started examining whether racial bias factored into the June 17 shooting that killed nine people at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Roof, who is white, apparently had posed for photographs at historic slave sites in the Lowcountry and posted an online manifesto about his beliefs of white supremacy.

But to link him further with the papers that investigators uncovered by searching his homes and vehicles after the attack, 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson wants to get handwriting samples from the 21-year-old Eastover man. Judge J.C. Nicholson approved Wilson’s request on Friday, paving the way for an expert to eventually compare the samples with the papers.

“Evidence was collected containing what the state believes to be the handwritten notes, lists, etc., of the defendant,” Wilson said in the proposed order that the judge later signed. “The state believes these handwritten items could contain relevant evidence of guilt and motive.”

Roof split his time between several residences. The FBI searched his friends’ home near Lexington, where he had been staying in the weeks before the crime. He also spent time with his father in Columbia and his mother’s family in Eastover, the friends said.

A local grand jury already has indicted Roof on nine murder charges, three attempted murder counts and a firearms charge in the shooting that also prompted an FBI hate crimes probe. A District Court judge has assigned federal public defenders to Roof, indicating an impending indictment on bias charges.

Court documents Roof signed soon after his arrest offer only a glimpse of his penmanship. He printed only his signature on a form in which he gave consent to appear by teleconferencing for his initial bond hearing in June.

In her court motion last week, Wilson said a handwriting analyst following State Law Enforcement Division guidelines would gather the detailed samples from Roof. The suspect’s three public defenders in state court likely won’t oppose the move; the paperwork indicated that they aim only to oversee the process.

The order did not say when the analysis might take place.

In other paperwork also filed late last week, Nicholson laid out more of his reasons for temporarily prohibiting the further release of public records related to the shooting and barring authorities from commenting on the case.

People with concerns about publicizing certain information, such as 911 calls, have until 5 p.m. Wednesday to file a motion asking Nicholson for more permanent restrictions. Through Monday afternoon, no one had filed such a motion.

Citing Roof’s right to a fair trial, the judge on July 10 first ordered law enforcement agencies not to release records that some news agencies had requested under the S.C. Freedom of Information Act. A half-dozen organizations, including The Post and Courier and the S.C. Press Association, have asked Nicholson to lift some of the restrictions.

In a follow-up filing Friday, a day after Nicholson further explained his reason for the gag order, he added that state and federal law enforcement agencies might not want the information to be made public because it could thwart aspects of their probes. He noted part of the state’s open-records law that allows an agency to withhold information if it can prove that it would be harmed by “the premature release of information to be used in a prospective law enforcement action.”

“This court is concerned with any ongoing investigation being conducted by local, state and federal law enforcement,” the judge wrote, “and concerned with whether the release of the material would harm those agencies.”

But the judge also reiterated that he was most concerned with graphic crime-scene photographs and dramatic 911 tapes that could be a “direct violation” of the state’s Victim’s Bill of Rights. That portion of the S.C. Constitution puts Nicholson in charge, he said, of making sure victims are treated with “fairness, respect and dignity.”

As the case continues to unfold inside the courtroom, city officials have made plans to memorialize the victims next year.

Charleston City Council members on Tuesday will consider a resolution to mark the first anniversary of the attack with a nine-day ceremony. On each of the “Mother Emanuel AME Church Days,” the city would plant a live oak tree — “a symbol of Lowcountry resilience”— at different spots citywide, according to the resolution.

“The city desires to acknowledge,” it added, “that the deaths of the Emanuel Nine have raised the social consciousness of the state of South Carolina, the United States and the rest of the world to the power that forgiveness has over cleansing our society of hate.”

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