[image-1]Attorneys for the Post and Courier and WCBD-TV presented their arguments on Wednesday for allowing public access to an upcoming hearing in the federal case of Dylann Roof, but to no avail.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ultimately decided to close Thursday’s suppression hearing during which evidence will be discussed that he says would possibly influence potential jurors and infringe upon Roof’s right to a fair and impartial jury. Gergel acknowledged that such a closure would only be necessary under rare circumstances, but maintained his position that this information be kept from the public leading up to the trial.
“There are simply some instances where the bell cannot be unrung,” the judge stated in a motion filed later in the day. “This is not an instance where the public’s awareness of the news is ‘overestimated’ and jury panels are likely to be ‘unaware of media spotlights.’”
Lawyer Jay Bender, representing the Post and Courier, said in court Wednesday that closing this week’s hearing could affect the public’s confidence in the judicial system and the belief that Roof received a fair trial. He called on the judge to consider other, less-restrictive alternatives to conducting the hearing outside of the public eye, while still ensuring that an impartial jury is selected in the federal case stemming from the 2015 shooting at Emanual AME Church. Gergel responded that he is taking special care in narrowing down the pool of 3,000 possible jurors that he has summoned. The judge acknowledged that he may be taking an unpopular stance, but protecting Roof’s constitutional rights should take precedence.
WCBD’s attorney Carl Muller called on Gergel to take a stance by opening the hearing — an act that he said would resonate during a time when a growing distrust of the legal system pervades America. Telling the court that he hoped to contribute light instead of sound and fury, Muller recounted a suspect he once defended from the death penalty. According to Muller, his client promised to murder again if given the chance. Reaching out for advice, Muller was told to take the worst aspect of his case and make that the centerpiece. Even though his client requested to be executed, Muller said, that man is now serving a life sentence.
The attorney followed his anecdote by providing the court with a list of internet search results for “Dylann Roof,” “Charleston shooting trial,” and “Mother Emanuel AME Church.” Citing the substantial amount of information on the case that has already been made public, Muller suggested that the release of any new facts would likely have little effect on the trial. In his motion, Gergel stated that the evidence in question has not been disclosed to the public and should not be released to possible jurors in the event that it is determined to be suppressed.
“If the suppression hearing were conducted publicly, there is a substantial probability that prospective jurors would be repeatedly exposed to [redacted],” Gergel stated in his motion. “Thus, should the court determine the evidence is inadmissible, there is a substantial probability that jurors would have seen and considered, a t least on some level, inadmissible [redacted] evidence. This would infringe defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial by impartial jury.”