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With guilty verdict, Roof must now look to sentencing

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 16/12/2016 Tonya Maxwell
Felicia Sanders, who watched her son Tywanza Sanders die at the hands of Dylann Roof, smiles while speaking to media after Roof was found guilty of murdering nine parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in a hate crime Friday, Dec. 15, 2016, in Charleston S.C. "I wear a smile now because the nine victims wore beautiful smiles in photos before they were killed," Sanders said. © Matt Walsh/The State via AP Felicia Sanders, who watched her son Tywanza Sanders die at the hands of Dylann Roof, smiles while speaking to media after Roof was found guilty of murdering nine parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in a hate crime Friday, Dec. 15, 2016, in Charleston S.C. "I wear a smile now because the nine victims wore beautiful smiles in photos before they were killed," Sanders said.

 With its decision to convict Dylann Roof in the deaths of nine African-American parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, federal jurors must now consider if he should face a sentence of life imprisonment or execution.

The panel will break until Jan. 3, when the court will resume for the second phase of the trial.

Witnesses for prosecutors, who have argued Roof spent months premeditating a heinous crime, are expected to include family members of the “Emanuel Nine” as well as the two surviving adult members of the attack.

Roof, 22, has elected to represent himself at sentencing, a move that strips his top-flight defense team of decision-making powers. Capital defenders David Bruck and Kimberly C. Stevens will be able to advise Roof in court, but will have little, if any, ability to address the judge, file motions and question witnesses.

Dylann Storm Roof appears by closed-circuit television at his bond hearing in Charleston, South Carolina, U.S. June 19, 2015 in a still image from video.  REUTERS/POOL/File Photo Dylann Roof sentenced to death in Charleston church shooting

Months ago, that team had indicated in court documents that it would present evidence that Roof suffers from a mental defect or similar condition.

That testimony, typically offered in the sentencing phase of a trial, would come by way of mental health experts who have evaluated the defendant, often with observations of family and friends who might speak to his demeanor.

While Roof appears to maintain a cordial relationship with his defense team, the rift over sentencing could stem from his belief that he is not mentally ill, experts in death penalty litigation have said.

Roof, in a handwritten journal penned in the months before the shootings, noted that he has no use for mental health experts.

“Also I want to state that I am morally opposed to psychology,” he wrote. “It is a Jewish invention, and does nothing but invent diseases and tell people they have problems when they don’t.”

U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel granted Roof’s motion to represent himself, finding that he is intelligent and competent, but called the decision “strategically unwise.”

Gergel has indicated repeatedly in court that he would allow Roof to again be represented by counsel, should he choose to change course.

In serving as his own attorney, Roof will be allowed to offer an opening and closing statement, question prosecution witnesses and put his own witnesses on the stand.

But what kind of case he might choose to present is unknown. Throughout his trial, he has generally stared ahead or at the table, never glancing at witnesses or evidence like documents and video recordings that appear on a screen to his immediate right.

The sentencing phase of trial, when prosecutors will put up aggravating evidence like the planning or heinous nature of the crime in pursuit of the death penalty, has long been regarded as the most critical portion of the case.

Dylann Roof, wearing shackles, is escorted into a transport vehicle in Charleston, S.C., on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016 after he was found guilty of murdering nine parishoners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church. © Matt Walsh/The State via AP Dylann Roof, wearing shackles, is escorted into a transport vehicle in Charleston, S.C., on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016 after he was found guilty of murdering nine parishoners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church. Whether Roof will offer mitigating evidence that could nudge a jury toward a life sentence, as his attorneys had planned, is unknown.

South Carolina solicitors also have announced they will pursue a capital case against Roof. That trial is scheduled to begin Jan. 17.

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