Lawyers for Dylann Roof said the publicity surrounding the mistrial of a police officer in a murder trial across the street from where Roof's trial is set to begin Wednesday should delay the start of his case, but a judge refused the request in just hours calling it illogical and farfetched.
Roof's lawyers filed the motion Tuesday, about 18 hours before jury selection begins in Roof's death penalty trial. The 22-year-old white man is charged with killing nine black people at a Charleston church in June 2015.
On Monday, a jury couldn't come to a verdict in the monthlong murder trial of Michael Slager. The white former North Charleston police officer shot black driver Walter Scott in the back as he ran away from a traffic stop in April 2015.
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The two trials have been inexorably linked. Race plays a central role in both cases. Slager was tried in state court, just across the street in Charleston from where Roof's federal trial will take place. Roof's lawyers said they worry jurors in their case may feel pressure from the community to make up for what some saw as injustice in Slager's case.
"In the immediate aftermath of the Slager mistrial, it will be hard if not impossible for a jury in this case to separate its verdict and sentence from the broader concerns of the community," Roof's attorneys wrote.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel denied what he called the "utterly farfetched and illogical" request, saying the shootings are completely unrelated and that a 45-item questionnaire and extensive in-person questioning last week assured him all 67 people in the jury pool are fair and impartial.
"The Court cannot respond to every breaking news story or development in the local court system by continuing a trial that has been scheduled since June 2016," Gergel wrote.
The judge also refused a request from Roof's lawyers that if the trial was not delayed, he should extensively question the 67 people in the jury pool before jurors are selected and warn the jury they can only judge Roof, not what happened in the other trial.
Opening statements and the first witness testimony are also expected Wednesday.
Roof is charged with federal hate crimes and obstruction of justice in the nine shooting deaths at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17, 2015. Authorities said he sat with the black parishioners in a Bible study for an hour before opening fire and hurling racial insults. Roof also faces a second death penalty trial in state court.
State prosecutors said they plan to try Slager again on a murder charge. The former police officer also faces a trial in federal court for violating Scott's civil rights.