Dylann Roof calls testimony from victims’ families ‘unfair’
Dylann Roof expressed his displeasure on Thursday over the “extent and depth” of court testimony provided by the loved ones of the nine people he murdered in 2015 at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
In a court motion filed during the second day of his death penalty trial, the self-avowed white supremacist wrote that he objected to the government’s plans to call a total of 38 witnesses to the stand. It was, Roof suggested, too many. He cited previous federal trials in which the defendant was facing the death penalty, including the trial of 1995 Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in which 38 witnesses were also called.
Since Roof’s body count was much lower — nine compared to McVeigh’s 168 — Roof contended that calling the same number of witnesses was unfair.
Earlier in the day, before the courtroom took a break for lunch, Roof had objected to a video introduced by the prosecution and played in the courtroom. Recorded by Chris Singleton, the son of victim Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, the video shows Singleton rapping lyrics that he wrote in memory of his dead mother.
Roof’s objection was overruled by U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel.
— Chris Singleton (@csingleton__2) November 20, 2016
“Much of the testimony and evidence so far could have been summarized, rather than presented in so much detail,” Roof wrote in the motion. “For example, a victim’s talent as a preacher may be described without showing a video of a prayer. Anticipating evidence that may be offered through upcoming witnesses, a victim’s ability as a singer may be remembered without playing a song, and another victim’s aptitude for poetry without giving a reading.”
Roof, who opted to represent himself in the sentencing part of the trial, told Gergel in a letter on Dec. 16 that he did not plan to call any witnesses or introduce any additional evidence, and would only make opening and closing statements. In the motion he filed on Thursday, Roof argued that because he was not presenting any evidence, the “victim-impact evidence will take over the whole sentencing trial and guarantee that I get the death penalty.”
“The Court has the ability to protect against unfair prejudice without creating more prejudice,” Roof wrote. “As I would if I were constantly interrupting victim-witnesses on the stand with objections.”
Gergel ultimately did not heed Roof’s request to limit testimony, but he did caution prosecutors. “I’m concerned both about the number of witnesses and the length of their testimony and the length collectively of their testimony,” Gergel said. “I want you to revisit your strategy here, because at some point I’m going to cut you off if it gets too long.”