Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof sentenced to death in federal trial

by: Crystal Bonvillian, Cox Media Group National Content Desk Updated:

CHARLESTON, S.C. - Convicted Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof was sentenced to death Tuesday for the June 2015 mass shooting that left nine people at Emanuel AME Church dead. It took the federal jury less than three hours of deliberations to reach the decision.

Roof's family said in a statement they "will struggle as long as they live to understand why he committed this horrible attack, which caused so much pain to so many good people." The statment also expressed the family's grief for the victims of Roof's crimes.

 

South Carolina State Sen. Tim Scott also issued a statement after the decision, praising the verdict. "Today that man was rightly sentenced to death."

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Scott pledged to continue supporting the families of the victims. He said the decision "is a pivotal moment in their road towards some sort of closure."

After receiving the death penalty, Roof reportedly told the judge he wanted new, court-appointed attorneys, but the judge said Roof can argue for new lawyers at his formal sentencing hearing scheduled for Wednesday morning at 9:30.

Roof on Tuesday offered few words to persuade jurors to spare his life for the murders he committed inside Emanuel AME Church, the oldest African Methodist Episcopal church in the South. He gave a disjointed closing statement in which he tried to downplay the hatred that Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson accused him of harboring. 

“I think that it’s, um, safe to say that no one in their right mind would want to go into a church and kill people,” Roof said. 


The Post and Courier in Charleston reported that Roof, who represented himself in the penalty phase of his trial, argued that he was not lying when he told FBI agents in 2015 that he does not hate black people. 

However, he admitted on Tuesday that he felt, and still feels, like he had to do what he did. 

“If I was really filled with as much hate as I allegedly am, wouldn’t I just say, ‘Yes, I hate black people?'” Roof said. “Wouldn’t it be fair to say the prosecution hates me because they are trying to get the death penalty?”

Roof said that Richardson and others accusing him of hatred do not know what true hatred looks like. 

“Anyone, including the prosecution, who thinks I am filled with hate has no idea what real hate is,” Roof said, according to the newspaper. “They don’t know anything about me.” 

He finished his statement by telling jurors that he has been told that he has the right to ask for a life sentence, but said he’s “not sure what good that would do anyway.”

Richardson countered in his final rebuttal that Roof continues to believe that he did the right thing and said the defendant’s closing argument “didn’t mitigate what he did.”

“Render the full measure of justice for this defendant,” Richardson said. “Sentence this defendant to death.”

‘A hate-filled heart and a Glock .45’

Before Roof’s statement, Richardson began his two-hour closing argument Tuesday morning by reminding jurors how Emanuel AME Church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, and the 11 other church members at the church on the night of June 17, 2015, welcomed Roof into their Bible study, the Post and Courier reported.

Pinckney offered the quiet young white man with the bowl haircut a seat next to him, a Bible and a handout about their lesson for the week. Just 45 minutes later, Pinckney and eight of his church members were lying on the floor, dead or dying. 

“They learned with the sounds of gunfire that the defendant had not come to learn or receive the Word,” Richardson told jurors, according to the newspaper. “He came with a hate-filled heart and a Glock .45.”

Richardson pointed out that Roof reloaded the gun seven times as he slowly made his way through the fellowship hall, firing more than 75 bullets at the people who had showed him kindness. He brought 88 bullets with him into the church, a nod to the eighth letter of the alphabet, “H.” The two eights, or “HH,” represented the phrase “Heil Hitler,” the prosecutor said. 

Roof, a self-proclaimed white nationalist, kept a racist manifesto online, to which he last posted just hours before the shooting. He then drove to Charleston and Mother Emanuel, as he had done several times over a six-month span as he decided where he would carry out his crime. 

Authorities found a hard copy of his manifesto in his car upon his arrest, along with a handwritten list of black churches. The historic Emanuel AME topped the list.

Richardson also reminded jurors Tuesday that Roof showed no remorse for his actions, the Post and Courier said. Roof wrote in a jailhouse journal that he kept after the murders that he had no remorse for the victims, but did feel bad for himself because he was giving up his own freedom. 

He wrote that he also had sympathy for white people “forced to live in this sick country.” He said his own sacrifices were “worth it.”

“I would like to make it crystal clear,” Roof wrote. “I do not regret what I did. I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.”

That lack of remorse, along with other “horrific aspects” of the case, justify Roof being sentenced to death, Richardson told jurors

“It outweighs anything else you might consider on the other side,” Richardson said. 

The federal prosecutor pointed out that Roof’s journal was written after he had killed the victims and that, as recently as during his trial, Roof was wearing shoes that he had adorned with white supremacist symbols. 

“You have seen nothing to indicate this defendant shows the possibility of meaningful change or redemption,” Richardson said

Richardson argued that the lack of potential for change in prison was just one of the criteria that Roof met that warranted the death penalty. The attack on the church also involved the deaths of multiple people, the people targeted were particularly vulnerable and the shooting involved months of planning, he said. 

Richardson also said that Roof could pose a danger in prison by continuing to spout hate and advocating for racially motivated violence. 

The defendant said little during the penalty phase of the trial, taking just three minutes for his opening statement. 

In his statement, Roof asked jurors to ignore defense attorney David Bruck’s efforts to cast doubt on his state of mind and told them that there was “nothing wrong with (him) psychologically.” 

He did not question any of the prosecution’s witnesses, though he did file multiple motions in support of his case. One motion argued that it was “not fair” for the judge to allow so much testimony from loved ones describing how the victims’ deaths affected their lives. 

Another motion filed Monday raised 27 objections to things that prosecutors might mention in closing arguments, such as references to God and “particularly inflammatory” terms regarding the views that Roof expressed in his writings, the Post and Courier reported

Roof also challenged the aggravating factors that jurors would be asked to consider, including allegations that the shooting was designed to start a race war, the newspaper said. 

“There is no evidence that I attempted to incite violent action by others in preparation, or subsequent to, the acts of violence,” the motion read.  

Those killed in the massacre were Pinckney, who was also a state senator, and church members the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons Sr. and Myra Thompson. 

The same jury that will sentence Roof found him guilty last month of 33 separate federal charges stemming from the mass shooting. The jury consisted of three black jurors and nine white jurors.