David Bruck, a law professor at Washington and Lee University, has spent decades crafting legal strategies to keep people out of the country’s execution chambers. He has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on seven occasions, winning six times. He has frustrated prosecutors, challenged judges and softened grim-faced juries, the New York Times reports. On the first day of the federal trial of Dylann Roof, the self-described white supremacist who is charged with killing nine black parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., Bruck told jurors, “This is the only phase of the case in which Mr. Roof will be represented by counsel.” Roof, 22, will defend himself during the portion of the trial early next year when jurors will decide whether to sentence him to death. Roof could reverse his unexplained decision, but for now, Bruck is left to prepare his final words to the jury before ceding the defense lawyer’s chair to the defendant.
The Times calls it “most likely a disorienting, disappointing reality” for Bruck, a death penalty foe who is being paid with tax dollars and who has been discarded by a client who confessed to the June 2015 killings. Roof’s self-representation could lead to years of appeals. There is little Bruck can do beyond making both overt and surreptitious efforts to raise a penalty phase defense before the verdict on guilt or innocence is reached. In 1995, he obtained a life sentence for Susan Smith, the South Carolina mother who drowned her two young sons. In that case, as he did during last year’s proceedings against Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was sentenced to death for the Boston Marathon bombings, Bruck did not dispute the guilt of his clients. “They’ve developed a pretty wise strategy of not banging their head against the wall, not trying to try the guilt phase when it would only lose their credibility to do so,” said Thomas Pope, who prosecuted Ms. Smith.