By Yvette C. Hammett, UPI
Dylann Roof, the man accused in a shooting spree that left nine dead at a historic Charleston, South Carolina church appears before a judge on June 19, 2015
CHARLESTON, S.C., Nov. 6 (UPI) — Final jury selection for the Dylann Roof federal murder trial began on Monday and is expected to be a long and tedious process, authorities said.
Picking 12 jurors at the historic courthouse in downtown Charleston won’t be quick, with prosecutors seeking the death penalty, The State reported. The federal trial is expected to take place in two phases. The first phase is to determine guilt or innocence. The second phase, if the self-proclaimed white supremacist is found guilty, is to determine whether the death penalty should apply or if he will get life in prison.
The 22-year-old Roof faces 33 separate charges stemming from the mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on June 17, 2015. Nine people died, including a state representative. Some of the charges are for hate crimes.
Jury selection started in September with a pool of 3,000 potential jurors. The group was vetted and pared down to about 700. The pool will be pared further to a dozen jurors and six alternates over the coming weeks.
“This is the most challenging jury selection in the American legal system,” said Johnny Gasser, now in private practice in Columbia but who has tried 10 death penalty cases as first a state prosecutor and then a federal prosecutor.
“There’s nothing like it,” said Gasser, who has served on the U.S. Attorney General’s Death Penalty Review Committee. “And cases don’t get any more high profile than the Roof case.”
Roof had agreed to plead guilty to murdering nine people, rather than going through a lengthy and expensive trial, only if the death penalty gets taken off the table, his lawyers said. Roof’s attorneys argued in court filings and in hearings that the death penalty is unconstitutional and should not be considered.
Federal prosecutors argue that the racial motivation and depth of the crime call for the death penalty, The Wall Street Journal reported.