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Dylann Roof appears in court: Why is judge withholding witness, reports? (+video)

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Randall Hill/Reuters

(Read caption) Dylann Roof, the 21-year-old man charged with murdering nine worshippers at a historic black church in Charleston last month, listens to the proceedings with assistant defense attorney William Maguire during a hearing at the Judicial Center in Charleston, S.C., Thursday.

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The alleged gunman who is accused of the church shooting in Charleston, S.C., that left nine people dead, appeared in court on Thursday for a hearing to determine whether legal documents in the case will be released to news media.

Media organizations including The Associated Press, Charleston’s The Post and Courier, and the South Carolina Press Association are challenging a court order that barred attorneys from talking about the case and prevented the release of emergency dispatch calls, coroner reports, and witness reports until a hearing next Wednesday.

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The order was instituted because of a concern by the judge that Dylann Roof’s right to a fair trial could be impaired because of pretrial publicity.

Media organizations are arguing that the judge’s gag order is too broad and the public has the right to know about the details of the case.

Thursday was Mr. Roof’s first appearance in court since his bond hearing on June 19, where the families of the massacre's victims expressed their grief and forgiveness of alleged murderer.

James Gosnell – the county magistrate who oversaw the bond hearing – has been accused of making the procedural legal event a media spectacle.

“Particularly at a bond hearing, the magistrate is there to preside over the administrative proceeding and move the case along,” Susan Milligan wrote in US News and World Report. “Gosnell should have resisted the temptation to assert an advocacy role in the process. And if the cameras weren't there, maybe he wouldn't have done so.”

Authorities say that Roof will also be presented with indictments for his alleged crimes at the court date. Roof faces nine counts of murder, three counts of attempted murder, and a weapons charge for the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on June 17. He also faces possible federal hate crime charges.

Recommended:Righting past wrongs: South Carolina's 'evolution of conscience'

Law enforcement officials have said that Roof has confessed to the crimes he has been accused of committing because of racial motivations, but it is unknown whether he will enter a plea on Thursday.

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After his arrest, a website containing a racist manifesto allegedly authored by Roof, emerged.

The site also showed Roof posing with the flag of Rhodesia and the Confederate battle flag, which has been seen as a symbol of racism, and conversely, Southern pride and heritage.

Legislative action and massive public pressure led to the Confederate flag’s removal from the South Carolina state Capitol where it had flown for decades.

Roof's trial date has been set for July 11, 2016.

This report contains material from the Associated Press and Reuters.