The Latest: Judge denies mistrial request in church slayings

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — The Latest on the federal death-penalty trial of a white man charged with killing nine black people during a Bible study in a Charleston church (all times local):

10:25 a.m.

A federal judge has denied a defense request for a mistrial in Dylann Roof’s trial in the Charleston church shooting.

Judge Richard Gergel said Thursday that a survivor’s testimony about Roof belonging “in the pit of hell” was not a statement on what his sentence should be. The judge told attorneys he interpreted Felicia Sanders testimony as “a religious comment.”

The judge instructed jurors that any decision on guilt or a sentence is up to the jury — not the attorneys or witnesses in the case.

Roof is on trial for hate crimes and other counts in the June 2015 shootings of nine black parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The defense, in a motion Thursday, asked for a mistrial saying that Sanders’ testimony suggested a sentence. Sanders also called Roof evil during her testimony.


9 a.m.

Defense attorneys are asking for a mistrial in Dylann Roof’s death-penalty trial, saying a witness’s remarks that he is evil and belongs in the “pit of hell” were inappropriate.

Roof is on trial on 33 federal counts, including hate crimes, in the June 2015 shootings of nine black parishioners during a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church.

In a motion filed Thursday morning, the defense asks for a mistrial after shooting survivor Felicia Sanders took the stand Wednesday and called Roof “evil, evil, evil” and said he should be in “the pit of hell.”

In the motion, the defense said such statements have no place in a courtroom. The motion asks that, if a mistrial is not granted, prosecutors be prohibited from mentioning the testimony in their closing arguments. The court has not yet taken up the motion.


2:40 a.m.

The attorneys defending Dylann Roof in the Charleston church shooting trial are largely conceding his guilt in the shooting deaths of nine black parishioners at Emanuel AME Church last year. Their attention is on keeping their client out of the death chamber.

Roof’s federal death penalty trial on 33 counts, including hate crimes, enters a second day Thursday.

Roof’s defense attorney David Bruck told the jurors as the trial opened there’s not a lot the defense can dispute in the guilt or innocence phase of the trial. The real question, he said, is whether the 22-year-old Roof spends the rest of his life in prison or is executed.

Bruck said the defense may not present any defense witnesses in the guilt phase of the trial and won’t have many questions for those the prosecution calls.