TIME Courts

Dylann Roof’s Decision to Represent Himself Was Not ‘Rashly Made,’ Judge Says

Charleston Church Shooting
Charleston County Sheriff's Office/AP Dylann Roof

Roof was "alert, focused and confident" when he asked to represent himself

(COLUMBIA, S.C.) — Dylann Roof, the white man charged with the shooting deaths of nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church, is being allowed to represent himself because he didn’t make the decision rashly and understood the consequences of his actions, a judge wrote in court documents unsealed Wednesday.

In a 10-page order, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel wrote that Roof met the standards required for self-representation, even though he called the defendant’s decision to act as his own lawyer “very unwise.”

Roof, 22, was “alert, focused and confident” when he asked the court to act as his own lawyer, a decision that was not “rashly made,” Gergel wrote.

“Defendant’s decision to forego (sic) the services of the nation’s foremost capital defense attorneys is, in the Court’s view, unwise, but the law does not permit the Court to reject Defendant’s assertion of his constitutional right to represent himself because it is foolhardy,” the judge wrote.

The judge ruled Monday that Roof could defend himself against dozens of federal charges, including hate crimes and obstruction of the practice of religion in the June 2015 attack at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. He faces a possible death sentence if convicted.

After Roof filed a motion seeking to represent himself, Gergel on Monday asked him questions in court about the charges against him, possible penalties and consequences of acting as his own lawyer.

In a motion of their own, prosecutors noted Roof had the constitutional right to represent himself, “regardless of the perceived effectiveness of a capital defendant’s putative decisions.”

Noted capital defender David Bruck and several other attorneys have been allowed to stay on as Roof’s standby counsel, available to advise him on legal matters but not argue on his behalf in court. Bruck, however, has sought ways to play more of a role in Roof’s defense. On Tuesday, the judge refused his request to communicate with prosecutors on Roof’s behalf via email.

Lawyers have also sought permission to explain to the court and prosecutors objections made by Roof in the juror qualification process, which is ongoing this week.

Roof apparently had considered becoming his own lawyer since earlier this month, when Gergel held a closed-door hearing to determine his competency to stand trial.

At the conclusion of the two-day proceeding, according to the judge’s order, Roof asked the court if there were a way to “take away all responsibility from my lawyers, but still keep them as my lawyers and then they could do whatever I say, but they wouldn’t have any responsibility, and then I could sign it?”

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