- Associated Press - Thursday, February 11, 2016

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - A judge on Thursday delayed the trial of a white man charged in the shooting deaths of nine black parishioners at a Charleston church as attorneys wait to see whether the federal government will seek the death penalty.

Dylann Roof, 21, faces dozens of federal charges, including hate crimes, in the slayings at Emanuel AME Church last June.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson told U.S. District Richard Gergel during a hearing on the status of the case that he expects the Justice Department will decide on whether to seek the death penalty in March or April.

A Justice Department committee that makes recommendations to the attorney general on seeking the death penalty has been reviewing the case in recent months.

“We are much closer to finishing that deliberative process,” Richardson told the judge.

Gergel did not set a trial date on Thursday.

Defense attorney David Bruck told the judge there won’t be a trial, just a guilty plea, if the government decides not to seek the death penalty. Roof, he said, “has offered to plead guilty. Everyone knows that.”

But Bruck indicated that, if the government does seek death and the case goes to trial, it could be heard before Roof’s trial in state court.

Bruck said that if there is a decision by April that the federal government is seeking death, he might exercise his right to a speedy trial for his client.

“I will accommodate that,” the judge assured him.

That leaves the possibility the federal case could be heard before Roof’s trial in state court on nine murder charges. That trial, in which the state is seeking the death penalty, starts in July.

Scarlett Wilson, who is prosecuting the state case, had earlier written Gergel saying the state wants to try Roof first.

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