Defense attorney: Dylann Roof's gamble in trial will work against him

Published: Nov. 28, 2016 at 9:40 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 28, 2016 at 11:59 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Dylann Roof will likely have an uphill battle in mounting his own defense.

Columbia defense attorney Jack Swerling says it is very unusual for any client to take such a risk.

This is a very rare move, but it's a move that once it's done -- there is no turning back. This very well may be a defensive tactic, but it will probably be very difficult for Roof for many reasons, including he has no known legal background or training.

So what does this mean for his former attorney David Bruck? Bruck, one of the top death penalty attorneys in the country, will now be Roof's stand-by attorney. He's allowed only to give advice but cannot question witnesses or offer objections.

Swerling says usually the judge does not allow a joint defense of Bruck and Roof sharing the responsibility.

If Roof decides later on that he needs help or no longer wants to represent himself, he'll have to ask the judge to allow him to shift that role solely back to his attorney. But for now -- Swerling speculates -- Roof is hoping that acting as his own attorney will work in his favor with the jury.

"You could find that they feel sorry for this guy that they really -- especially if he's using some mental issues as a defense -- they can find that this fits right in with the mental issues he's raising by defending himself," Swerling said. "They can say nobody would defend himself in a death penalty trial. So, it may work to his advantage. But, if I was a betting man, I would say it's going to work to his disadvantage in a great way."

While Judge Richard Gergel ruled Roof is competent to stand trial, Swerling says there could be other mental health evaluations throughout the trial if it's thought Roof's mental state has changed.

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