CHARLESTON, S.C., Jan. 2 (UPI) -- A judge overseeing the death penalty case of Dylann Roof found Monday that the killer of nine people at a Charleston church is competent to represent himself during the sentencing portion of his trial for the shooting.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel found Roof competent to represent himself in the sentencing portion of his trial, which he has already stated he plans to call no witnesses or present evidence while making his case to the jury. Roof was found guilty last month on 33 charges linked to the shooting at Emanuel AME Church in 2015.
During the sentencing hearing, which is scheduled to start on Wednesday, Roof will be seated as far away from the jury as possible, and will not be permitted to approach either jury or witnesses while making his case.
Gergel had earlier banned the public and press from attending the hearing Monday because of concerns of a right to a fair trial. Otherwise, he said would be compelled to sequester the federal jury because of news reports.
"I can't walk down the street without hearing people talk about this case," the judge said before the hearing.
But attorney Jay Bender argued the hearing should be open so the public is aware of what is happening.
"I think that presumes that the jurors cannot put aside anything that they'd hear outside the courtroom in making their decision, and I think that is inconsistent with what the requirements are for a fair trial," Bender said. "It's not an ignorant jury. It's a panel of jurors who can make a decision based solely on what they hear in the courtroom."
On Thursday, Roof's standby counsel filed a motion asking for a new mental evaluation late last week.
The judge agreed and Roof was examined for five hours over the weekend by Dr. James C. Ballenger, a forensic psychiatrist. In November, the psychiatrist examined Roof after the defense team asked for a competency hearing as jury selection was set to begin.
Jurors are scheduled Tuesday to hear evidence before weighing a sentence of life imprisonment against the death penalty.
Roof told the court Wednesday that he planned to offer an opening statement in the sentencing phase of the trial but would call no witnesses or offer any evidence in his defense.
Roof was convicted of 33 federal counts in the June 17, 2015, attack on Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church