Trials & Litigation

Charleston shooting trial set for 2016; judge extends gag order despite media objections

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Dylann Roof

Photo of Dylann Roof from the Berkeley County Government Twitter account.

A trial date for Dylann Roof over the shooting deaths of nine churchgoers in June has been set for July 2016, the Associated Press reports.

Roof was charged with nine counts of murder, three counts of attempted murder, and a firearms charge. Roof hasn’t entered a plea yet, according to the article. His attorney, Ashley Pennington, expressed concern at the hearing that the trial date was too accelerated, according to the Post and Courier. In court papers, Roof’s lawyers have described the matter as a “potential death penalty case” according to the article.

The fatal shootings took place at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, and have been described by some as hate crimes. The federal government has not yet announced whether they will pursue hate crime charges for Roof, 21. But according to the AP, Department of Justice officials have said that the shootings meet the legal requirements for hate crime prosecutions.

Also on Thursday, the judge denied a request from media groups to lift a gag order in Roof’s case. Some of the evidence is graphic, Circuit Court Judge J.C. Nicholson noted during the hearing at the Charleston County courthouse, and he expressed concern that releasing it could violate victims’ rights. He extended the order to Wednesday, reportedly so decedents’ families had time to file extension orders.

Previously, the Post and Courier reports, Nicholson stated that releasing the information could jeopardize Roof’s right to a fair trial. On Thursday, he said he’d misspoken, and that his major concern had been for the families of the victims. “Victims have the right to be treated with fairness, respect and dignity,” Nicholson said.

“The Post and Courier has no interest in publishing graphic crime-scene photos from this horrific attack,” said that newspaper’s executive editor, Mitch Pugh, in response to the judge’s ruling. “However, we believe the public has the right and responsibility to inspect the 911 calls to determine if the agencies involved responded appropriately and promptly. Traditionally, the media has played a key role in helping the public perform this vital oversight. We trust we will be allowed to continue to do so.”

Pennington waived his client’s right to seek bail, and the judge responded that no bail would have been granted had it been requested, according to the AP.

Related articles: “Background-check flaw let Charleston church-massacre suspect buy a gun, FBI chief says” “Hate-crime investigation launched after suspect captured in Charleston church shooting”

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