Accused South Carolina church shooter, acting as own lawyer, helps pick jurors

Police lead suspected shooter Dylann Roof into the courthouse in Shelby, North Carolina, U.S. June 18, 2015. REUTERS/Jason Miczek/File Photo (Reuters)

By Harriet McLeod

CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - The man accused of killing nine people at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, last year helped choose jurors on Tuesday for his federal death penalty trial after being allowed to serve as his own lawyer.

Federal prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against 22-year-old avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof, who is charged with acts of hate crimes, obstruction of religion and firearm use that resulted in death.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said he was not inclined to let Roof's former lawyers email prosecutors in the case on Roof's behalf despite the prisoner not having email access.

"Mr. Roof chose to represent himself and that choice has consequences," Gergel said, adding he would give the request more thought.

The judge also said the lawyers, appointed by him to serve as standby counsel, could no longer speak for Roof in court.

"You are not Mr. Roof's co-counsel," Gergel said. "That is off the table. I told you, Mr. Roof, that I thought this was a bad idea, self-representation."

Roof has not said publicly why he wants to defend himself against charges stemming from the shooting attack, carried out during a Bible study session at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015.

His lawyers previously said he wanted to plead guilty if federal prosecutors agreed to a sentence of life in prison without parole. They refused.

Roof faces the death penalty in a state murder trial set to begin early next year.

Tuesday marked the second day potential jurors were questioned individually in court, where Gergel asked about their opinions of the death penalty and whether they could be fair and impartial.

One woman who wrote in a questionnaire that she believed Roof was a racist, cold-blooded killer was qualified to possibly hear the case after she said she could presume him innocent for the trial.

Roof objected to a man who said the church massacre was "very wrong and very cowardly."

"He wants death so I think he should be struck," Roof said.

The judge, however, approved the man as a potential juror.

The final 12 jurors and six alternates will be selected from a pool of 70 people qualified by the judge after his questioning.

(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Steve Orlofsky)