Today, as you are reading this, the courtroom in South Carolina which has attracted so much of the nation’s attention this winter will come to order for the last stand of mass shooter Dylann Roof. The convicted murderer has been representing himself for much of the proceedings, and following yet another competency review by the judge, he will continue to do so for this last sentencing phase. The stakes are high because it’s literally his life on the line. (Associated Press)

After a judge ruled Monday that Dylann Roof is competent to represent himself, the same jury that last month unanimously found him guilty in the slayings of nine black parishioners at a South Carolina church will return to court to begin contemplating his punishment.

With the 22-year-old representing himself, the process is sure to be unconventional. But even if Roof is sentenced to death, it’s highly unlikely he’d be executed anytime soon.

While prosecutors plan to call up to 38 people related to the nine people killed and three who survived the June 2015 slaughter during Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, Roof said last week he plans on calling no witnesses and presenting no evidence.

The competency ruling came on Monday, but the judge gave Roof an extra day to prepare his defense. In this case, “competency” shouldn’t be confused the with the idea of being professionally competent in matters of litigation. While it’s unlikely that Roof will sway many people to his side, he doesn’t seem to even be trying. The state will call a number of witnesses who will no doubt provide a compelling case as to why this monster’s crimes are simply too heinous to allow him to continue sharing the communal oxygen supply. A competent defense attorney could surely come up with some sort of witness to make an argument which might sway at least a juror or two in the direction of mercy. (Not to say that it would work, but they would at least be professionally honor bound to try.)

Instead, Roof will face the jury and answer the prosecutors on his own. But to what end? Does he plan some last minute scheme taken from a movie he’s seen? Or has he already resigned himself to his fate and simply wants to use these final moments in the limelight to make some sort of political statement in support of white supremacy or whatever other tripe he’s planning on pitching? Maybe, but not everyone agrees. Perhaps he’s a bit cagier than most of us are giving him credit for. Page Pate at CNN thinks that there still may be a sliver of hope left for him.

By representing himself at the penalty phase, I actually think Dylann Roof has a better chance than most might believe at avoiding a death sentence for his crimes…

In a recent case from Georgia, a defendant represented himself in a death penalty trial and lived to tell about it. The defendant in that case admitted to a killing spree during which he murdered a well-known local police officer, tried to kill another police officer, and then killed an innocent bystander. The case was tried in a rural, mostly white county in a red, pro-death penalty state.

Like the Roof case, everything about the Georgia case pointed to a death sentence. But that’s not what happened. Like Dylann Roof, the defendant in that case decided to start representing himself during the proceedings. That’s when the wheels of justice went off the track.

Pate offers a compelling argument and the previous case he cites is worth a read if you’re interested. Could he be right? If Roof had followed the “standard script” of standing mute and having his attorneys make the same arguments we see in almost all death penalty cases, he’d probably lose. But by dishing up something which the jurors don’t expect and putting a human face and voice to the identity of the person they are being asked to send to his grave, some of those jurors might find themselves unable to pull the trigger, metaphorically speaking.

Personally, as I’ve said here repeatedly, I’d prefer to see them simply put the beast down and be done with it. But the more I look at these proceedings, the more I wonder if Pate is correct. We could have a serious curve ball coming when this is finally all said and done.

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