- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 29, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Attorneys representing the man accused of killing nine people at a historic black church say they need to focus solely on his case until it goes to trial to give their client an adequate defense, according to court papers filed this week.

In a motion filed in state court on Monday, the lawyers for Dylann Roof asked a judge to protect them from having to appear in any other cases until three months after his trial is over.

Roof, 21, is represented by Charleston County Public Defender Ashley Pennington and Bill McGuire, who handles only capital cases. Roof is set to go to trial next summer, and both lawyers wrote that they need to focus all their attention on his case until then.

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

The motion doesn’t specify whether the attorneys’ cases should get new lawyers or be delayed until after Roof’s trial.

Roof 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. A judge has scheduled his trial to begin next July, and prosecutors haven’t said whether they’ll seek the death penalty.

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.

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.

Roof also faces dozens of federal charges, including hate crimes and some that could carry a death sentence in the federal system. He is expected to be arraigned on those charges Friday, and a federal judge on Wednesday appointed a third attorney to represent Roof on those charges.


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

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