A federal judge on Monday has postponed jury selection in the U.S. death penalty trial of Dylann Roof, the 22-year-old white man accused of killing nine people at Mother Emanuel AME, a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, last year.
He is also charged with nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder under a second federal hate crime statute that prohibits the use or threat of force to obstruct any person's free exercise of their religious beliefs.
Roof, who identifies with White Supremacist ideology, admitted to the murders shortly after his arrest. He confessed that he had planned the attack 6 months prior to opening fire during the Bible study.
In a surprise move, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel held a closed hearing involving only defendant Dylann Roof and his lawyers, to discuss issues in the case.
Gergel said he did not know the full subject matter of Monday's closed hearing, but that issues remaining in the case included contested evidence. He said Roof's rights would be prejudiced by an open hearing. He did not say when jury selection might resume.
The news frustrated relatives of the deceased, who have waited so long for the trial to begin. Being shut out of the hearing, they say, adds insult to injury.
Prosecutors say Roof singled out victims who were black and elderly, and say that he showed no remorse. At the federal trial, they plan to present racist manifestos they say he wrote in an effort to incite a race war.
Roof’s roommate, Joey Meek said he was told Roof wanted to start a Civil War before killing himself. Roof reportedly said black people were taking over the world; killing them was the only way the white race would survive.
Roof has offered to plead guilty if the death penalty were dropped, court filings show. The state trial is scheduled to begin in January.
More than 500 potential jurors remain from a pool of approximately 3,000 summoned earlier this year.