The suspect’s lawyers had moved to have him analyzed by a doctor to determine if he was mentally fit to stand trial. Video provided by Newsy Newslook
COLUMBIA — Dylann Roof is competent to stand trial in the murders of nine worshipers at a Charleston church last summer, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled Friday.
The ruling came after two days of closed-door hearings this week at which Roof was present.
Gergel issued his three-page order but sealed his finding of facts and conclusions of law because he said “the public disclosure of that document at this time would prejudice defendant’s rights under the Fifth and Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and place in jeopardy the defendant’s right to select a fair and impartial jury and to a fair trial.”
He said jury selection in the case would resume Monday.
Gergel ordered the competency hearing closed last week after concluding that holding it in open court could threaten Roof’s right to a fair trial.
Roof’s trial began Nov. 7 with jury selection but was called to a halt. Gergel subsequently disclosed that Roof was undergoing a competency evaluation.
The Greenville News and USA Today Network objected to the judge’s decision to close the competency hearing, along with the Associated Press, the Charleston Post and Courier and The State newspapers, National Public Radio, WCSC-TV and federal prosecutors.
Gergel was not swayed as members of victims’ families and news media representatives lodged objections to the closure.
In his order, Gergel said the competency issue arose Nov. 7 during a hearing in which one of Roof’s lawyers asked for a competency evaluation.
Gergel wrote in his order that a defendant is not competent to stand trial “only if the court finds ‘that the defendant is presently suffering from a mental disease or defect’ that renders him ‘unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist properly in his defense.’ “
“The test for competency is whether the defendant ‘has a sufficient present ability to consult with his lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding’ and ‘has a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against him,’ ” Gergel said in his order. “A defendant must have the ‘capacity to understand the nature and object of the proceedings against him, to consult with counsel and to assist in preparing his defense.’ “
Gergel said he reviewed “voluminous” documents and heard the testimony of five witnesses, including James Ballenger, the court-appointed competency examiner, and considered sworn statements from three other people. Ballenger was the only witness identified in Gergel’s order.
Ballenger, Gergel noted in his order, is “one of the nation’s most renowned and respected psychiatrists,” who has practiced for more than 45 years and chaired the department of psychiatry and behavior sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina for 17 years.
“After carefully considering the record before the court, the relevant legal standards and the arguments of counsel, the court now finds and concludes that the defendant is competent to stand trial,” Gergel concluded in his order.
Gergel said last week he would consider releasing a redacted court transcript of the hearings, so the public would have some idea what occurred.
Had Gergel ruled Roof was not competent, he would have been held in federal custody until such time as he was judged competent to stand trial.
A man walked into a Charleston, South Carolina church on June 17, observed the parishioners worshiping for about an hour and then killed nine of them. Here is a look at the events surrounding the massacre at Emanuel AME church. VPC
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