- Associated Press - Friday, August 28, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Attorneys representing the man accused of killing nine people at a historic black church will be allowed to solely focus on his case until it’s resolved, a judge ruled on Friday.

Charleston County Public Defender Ashley Pennington is excused from all other cases starting on Sept. 1, and Bill McGuire, who handles only capital cases, is freed up starting in December. Both lawyers’ break from other cases ends three months after Dylann Roof’s is concluded.

Circuit Judge J.C. Nicholson Jr. also cleared calendars for state prosecutors handling the case, starting at the beginning of next year.

Roof, 21, faces state charges including nine counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder from the June 17 shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

His trial has been scheduled to begin next July, and prosecutors haven’t said whether they’ll seek the death penalty. Roof also faces dozens of federal charges, some of which could potentially carry a death sentence in that system, and his attorneys in that case have said that Roof wants to plead guilty.

Requiring them to also deal with all their other cases, Pennington and McGuire wrote, would violate not only Roof’s constitutional rights but also those of their other clients.

McGuire, who heads up the capital trial division for the state’s Commission on Indigent Defense, has nine cases that either already are or could potentially deal with the death penalty, a caseload the attorneys say is “exceedingly high by national standards.”

“In order for Mr. Pennington and Mr. McGuire to provide competent representation and be prepared for the trial by the date (now a little over eleven months away) set by this Court, these attorneys cannot simultaneously prepare other cases for court appearances, much less try another death penalty or murder case,” they wrote.

But if they do, Pennington and McGuire wrote, Roof will essentially have two trials: one to determine his guilt or innocence, and another to determine if he’ll face death for his alleged crimes. Given the massive amount of attention that Roof’s case has attracted, the attorneys said they’ll need the next year to thoroughly examine their client’s background, conducting an exhaustive investigation and assembling witnesses who could testify about any mental or emotional issues in his past.

Additionally, Pennington “carries a heavy work and caseload,” supervising two public defender offices and handling more than half a dozen other complex murder cases.

Roof is next expected in court later this fall.

___

Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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