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Dylann Roof says he doesn't plan to call witnesses, offer evidence in his defense

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With his life on the line, Dylann Roof has no plans to call witnesses or introduce evidence in his defense during the penalty phase of his hate crimes trial, where he faces a possible death sentence for killing nine black worshipers in Charleston's Emanuel AME Church.

The 22-year-old white supremacist made the pronouncement Wednesday morning after reaffirming his decision to represent himself during the proceedings, which begin Jan. 3. He said he intends to make opening and closing statements but has no plans beyond that to present a defense.

"As far as I know, I am not intending to offer any evidence at all or call any witnesses whatsoever," he told the judge in a flat voice.

Roof told U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel that he wanted to make his plans clear for the prosecution's sake. "Don't do them any favors," the judge replied. "They aren't going to do you any."

Gergel also told Roof he will give him until the start of the penalty proceedings to change his mind about serving as his own counsel. 

"You know my feeling on this," Gergel said. "I think it's a bad idea."

Still, Gergel said, it is Roof's decision to make. He requested that Roof at least speak with his former attorneys and his grandfather, a respected Columbia lawyer, before reaching a final decision. Roof grinned and agreed to do so.

Roof's comments came during a pre-trial hearing in the case in advance of sentencing proceedings. Roof appeared at the hearing wearing a striped gray jail jumpsuit, handcuffed and shackled at the ankles with chains that clanked audibly as he walked to the lectern to address the court.

He took his normal place at the defense table, ceding the lead chair to his former lead attorney, noted capital defense lawyer David Bruck. That led Gergel to question whether Roof had experienced a change of heart since his Dec. 15 conviction about wanting to represent himself. Roof smiled and shook his head. 

Roof also reaffirmed his decision not to present evidence related to his mental health. His former lawyers almost certainly would have tried to use such evidence to persuade the jury to spare his life.

Roof's fate will fall to the same 12 jurors — three black, nine white — who found him guilty of 33 federal counts in the June 2015 church massacre. He was convicted of hate crimes, obstructing religion and firearms violations in the mass shooting. In all, he fired some 77 rounds inside the historic church's fellowship hall, methodically killing a group of parishioners who had welcomed him to their weekly Bible study.

When the jury returns next week to begin the penalty phase, they will hear from prosecutors and Roof before mulling whether he should be put to death for his crimes or sentenced to a life prison term.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson said prosecutors have a list of about 38 potential witnesses to discuss the impact on victims in the case. They also plan to call the lead FBI case agent to go over some of the facts heard during the guilt phase. The agent, Joseph Hamski, proved key in tying together the various elements of the government's case, walking the jurors through a timeline of Roof's scouting and preparation for the church massacre.

Depending on how Roof proceeds with his defense, Hamski and the victim-impact witnesses could represent the entirety of the government's case, Richardson said.

Roof seemed most concerned Wednesday about keeping some evidence out of the court record, particularly materials related to a competency hearing in which his mental health was at issue. He said he wants records from that hearing to remain sealed, along with information about an unspecified incident involving his mother. 

Gergel said he must balance Roof's concerns against the public's right to know full details about the case. He said he has reached no decision on the matter but is concerned about the potential impact of unsealing that information before Roof stands trial for murder in state court. The state trial is scheduled to get underway on Jan. 17.

Roof also objected to the prosecution introducing a photograph of a piece of evidence that was the subject of an earlier suppression hearing in the case. He, the judge and Richardson stayed clear of stating exactly what that piece of evidence was, leaving it a mystery for now as the case moves toward its conclusion. 

Reach Glenn Smith at 843-937-5556 or follow him on Twitter @glennsmith5.

Watchdog/Public Service Editor

Glenn Smith is editor of the Watchdog and Public Service team and helped write the newspaper’s Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation, “Till Death Do Us Part.” Reach him securely on Signal at 843-607-0809 or by email at

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