Charleston church shooting suspect’s trial set to begin

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — The white man who authorities said wanted to start a race war by killing nine black people in a South Carolina church is getting ready to stand trial in a city already bruised by a former police officer’s racially charged murder trial that ended in a hung jury.

Jury selection and opening statements are set for Wednesday in Dylann Roof’s federal death penalty trial.

Roof sat with 12 people in Bible study and prayer for an hour at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on June 17, 2015, before pulling a gun from his fanny pack, firing dozens of shots and reloading several times, police said.

He hurled racial insults, telling the parishioners he was killing them because he wanted a war between whites and blacks because blacks were raping white women and taking over the country, authorities said.

Roof left three people alive in the church basement so they could tell the world his reasons for the shooting, police said. Two others, who were in another room, also survived.

The shootings took place a little more than two months after a white North Charleston police officer was charged with murder for shooting an unarmed black driver running from a traffic stop, the stark killing unfolding millions of times across the country online and on TV after a bystander recorded it. The trial of Michael Slager ended Monday without a verdict, and though Charleston stayed calm, tensions rose even after the state prosecutor promised a retrial.

Although Slager’s lawyers vigorously fought to prove he wasn’t guilty, Roof’s lawyers have offered several times to plead guilty if federal prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty. They refused.

When prosecutors said it would take six to seven days to make their case that Roof is guilty, defense attorney David Bruck said Roof’s case would take little additional time.

The past week leading up to the trial had its own drama as Roof fired his lawyers to act as his own attorney, then hired them back Monday. But he said he will again be his own lawyer if he is found guilty and the second phase of the trial begins where prosecutors present evidence Roof deserves to be put to death.

Roof’s attorneys said they don’t know why he wants to be his own lawyer but said in other cases defendants have been trying to avoid having their lawyers introduce embarrassing evidence that could sway jurors.

Roof faces 33 charges in federal court, including hate crimes and obstruction of religion. State prosecutors plan a second death penalty trial on nine murder charges.

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