Federal judge sends sealed files in church shooter case to SC state court

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The South Carolina judge overseeing the upcoming state trial of convicted church shooter Dylann Roof will review sealed federal court records dealing with Roof’s mental competency, which might prevent the need to evaluate him again.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ordered that transcripts from Roof’s competency hearings, psychological evaluations and records from defense experts be sent to Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson.

Roof, 22, was sentenced to death earlier this month in federal court for the slayings of nine parishioners as they prayed during a June 2015 Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. A jury had found him guilty of 33 charges including hate crimes and obstruction of religion.

After fielding requests from Roof’s legal team, Gergel twice found Roof competent to stand trial. The hearings on Roof’s mental competency were closed to the public over objections from media outlets including The Associated Press.

Against Gergel’s own advice, Roof was allowed to represent himself during the sentencing phase, a time when many lawyers in capital cases introduce evidence their clients suffered from mental illness at the time of the crimes.

Roof said he wouldn’t put up such evidence. His former defense lawyers — still on the case as legal advisers — repeatedly told the judge they feared their client was dooming himself to a death sentence out of fear of evidence that might embarrass him or his family.

Roof called no witnesses at all, cross-examined none of the prosecution’s witnesses and told jurors in a closing argument, “I still feel like I had to do it.”

Attorneys representing Roof in his state death penalty case have asked he be mentally evaluated. Sharing the federal competency documents, Gergel wrote, “may allow the state court to avoid needless repetition of proceedings already completed in this Court.”

State charges against Roof include nine counts of murder. His state trial was supposed to start Jan. 17, but was indefinitely postponed while his federal trial was underway.

Solicitor Scarlett Wilson has said she should decide how to handle Roof’s state death penalty trial in the next 30 days. Wilson has also said she is evaluating what happened in the federal trial and is awaiting some additional information to decide how to proceed in state court.

If a South Carolina jury sentences Roof to death, he would be the only person facing both a federal death sentence and a state death sentence, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

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