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Attorney offers thoughts after judge's decision on Roof's competency

Published: Nov. 26, 2016 at 1:30 AM EST|Updated: Nov. 26, 2016 at 3:39 AM EST
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CHARLESTON, SC (WIS) - Dylann Roof is mentally competent to stand trial – so says Judge Richard Gergel in a three-page order released Friday morning.

Details are limited in the order, but it indicates that Judge Gergel determined Dylann Roof competent after considering the law, hearing testimony from multiple people in a closed two-day competency hearing, and reading the report of a renowned psychiatrist.

The decision means that Roof presently has no mental condition that prevents him from understanding the 33 federal indictments against him or no mental condition that prevents him from assisting his defense team.

"The fact that the judge ruled that he is competent in no way even touches what his state of mind was at the time," said Bill Nettles, a former U.S. Attorney who was overseeing the case for the government before he resigned this past summer.

Nettles said, even though Roof is mentally competent now, it doesn't mean that the defense can't argue he wasn't mentally competent at the time of the shooting.

"If they wanted to present something like 'Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity' or one of those types of defenses, they would have had to put the court on-notice of something like that," he said.

Roof's defense attorneys wrote in a recent filing that they've not "provided final notice that we intend to present a mental health case."

Regardless, a jury will need to be selected and a pool of hundreds of jurors will need to be narrowed down to just twelve jurors and six alternates.

"I don't know how long it's going to take, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's in excess of a month," Nettles said.

Jury selection will begin Monday morning in Charleston. Nettles said, even though it'll be a long process, it's an important one.

"Not only is somebody's liberty at stake, but their life's at stake. These are the kinds of things that should be done very cautiously and should be done right the first time," he said.

Judge Gergel, in a separate order, said he won't release details or a transcript of the competency hearing for now, to ensure Roof's right to a fair trial.
 
Nettles said he agrees with Gergel's statement that this is a vulnerable time to taint potential jurors, since jury selection is just days away. But, Nettles said all of the documents and
transcripts containing public information will be released at a later date, when it's more appropriate to do so.

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