CHARLESTON, S.C. A U.S. judge on Tuesday set a Nov. 7 date for the federal trial of the white man accused of killing nine black parishioners in a racially motivated attack at a church in Charleston a year ago.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel set the federal proceedings, in which prosecutors will seek the death penalty for Dylann Roof, ahead of a state capital punishment trial scheduled for January.
Gergel said up to 1,500 people from across South Carolina could be called as possible jurors for the federal trial.
Federal prosecutors said last month that they intended to pursue capital punishment for Roof should he be convicted of the June 17, 2015, killings during a Bible study at Charleston's historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
State prosecutors had signalled their plans to seek the death penalty last year, making the case a rare instance of a defendant facing the death penalty in federal and state courts at the same time.
Roof, 22, faces different charges in each. State prosecutors charged him with murder and attempted murder, while federal prosecutors charged him with 33 counts including hate crimes, obstruction of religion and firearms offences.
Jury selection in the state trial is due to start in early December, which could overlap with the federal proceedings. Gergel estimated on Tuesday that jury selection and the guilt and penalty phases of the federal trial could last six weeks.
"The most important thing is bringing justice to these families and this case as efficiently and as quickly as possible, still getting it done right," state prosecutor Scarlett Wilson said after the court hearing in Charleston.
Roof's lawyers have said he would agree to plead guilty rather than go to trial if federal prosecutors ruled out capital punishment.
Defence attorney David Bruck said his client's offer to plead guilty stands. "Our plea offer has not been withdrawn and will never be withdrawn," Bruck told the hearing.
Roof and more than a dozen family members of the shooting victims attended the hearing, held ahead of the first anniversary of the shooting next week.
A number of remembrance events are planned in Charleston, including a Bible study and service at the church and a service at the arena where President Barack Obama gave the eulogy for the church's slain pastor.
Bernice King, daughter of the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., will be the keynote speaker at an event in the city on June 18.
(Reporting by Harriet McLeod; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Dan Grebler)
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First Published On : Jun 8, 2016 04:31 IST