Jury condemns Dylann Roof to death for Charleston, SC, church shooting that killed 9 – Los Angeles Times
A federal jury on Tuesday condemned unrepentant white supremacist Dylann Roof to death for the June 2015 massacre of nine black parishioners at a South Carolina Bible study class.
Roof stood stone-faced, showing no emotion, as U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel announced the jury’s unanimous verdict, which came after about three hours of deliberation.
Relatives and friends of the victims were quiet. Some left court smiling and embracing.
“Today we had justice for my sister,” Melvin Graham, the brother of slain churchgoer Cynthia Hurd, said outside the courthouse. “This is a very hollow victory because my sister is still gone.”
Graham said the death penalty was fitting for Roof, who last month was convicted of the killings, because his act was so brutal and he showed no remorse.
“He just took them away from us because he wanted to,” Graham said. “He decided the day, the hour, the moment my sister was going to die. And now someone is going to do that for him…. He’s in God’s hands now.”
Before the jury began deliberating, Roof, who decided to represent himself during the sentencing phase of the trial, offered the panel no explanation or apologies for the shooting, saying that he felt he had to do it.
In his last words to jury members before they decided whether to punish him with death or life in prison without parole, Roof said he was misunderstood. Yet he ultimately declined to give jurors any explanation for the massacre or a single reason to spare his life.
Roof acknowledged that he told FBI investigators after he was arrested that he had to do it. “But obviously that’s not really true,” he told the jury. “I didn’t have to do it. I didn’t have to do anything.… What I meant when I said that was that I felt that I had to do it, and I still do feel like I had to do it.
“Anyone, including the prosecution, who thinks that I’m filled with hatred has no idea what real hate is,” Roof said awkwardly, his face flushed as he read haltingly from notes. “They don’t know anything about me. They don’t know what real hatred looks like. They think they do, but they don’t really.”
Prosecutors, in turn, told jurors that Roof was a cold and calculated racist who dismissed a whole class of people as “brute animals” and continued to believe the shootings were worth it, even after hearing of the “immeasurable loss” of his victims’ loved ones.
“He wants you to believe that you have been misled and that indeed he was justified,” Assistant U.S. Atty. Julius “Jay” Richardson told the panel of nine white and three black jurors. “He wants you to believe he was justified in committing a modern-day lynching. Don’t let that be.… Render the full measure of justice for this defendant. Sentence this defendant to death.”
The jury began deliberating Tuesday afternoon after Roof’s closing arguments. Earlier, as federal attorneys wrapped up their case, they provided a lengthy list of aggravating factors that they said justified the death penalty, rather than life in prison.
Not only had Roof killed multiple people and endangered others, prosecutors said, but he also conducted substantial planning, was motivated by racial prejudice and hoped to incite others. They insisted Roof continued to show “not one ounce of remorse.”
Last month, the same jurors found Roof guilty of all 33 charges related to the June 2015 massacre at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, including multiple counts of committing a hate crime against black victims, obstructing the exercise of religion and using a firearm to commit murder.
Roof, who has developed a tense relationship with his defense team, asked the judge whether he would appoint new lawyers to help file a request for a new trial.
Gergel told Roof he was “strongly disinclined” to appoint new attorneys but would listen to any motions Roof made Wednesday.
In closing arguments, the trial’s lead prosecutor offered a window into each of the nine victims’ lives, showing jurors family photos of them at ballgames, weddings, vacations and graduations.
“You now know the last moments this last group of 12 spent together,” Richardson told the jury, reminding them the nine victims were among a dozen who had gathered together that muggy June evening to study the gospel of Mark’s parable of the sower. “You also now know how extraordinarily good these people were.
“They welcomed the defendant with a kind word, a Bible, a handout and a chair,” he said. Yet Roof “had come not to learn, not to receive the word.… He’d come with a hateful heart and a Glock.”
After showing images of Roof posing with a pistol and a Confederate flag, and engaged in target practice in his backyard, Richardson argued that the defense had failed to show any possibility that Roof was capable of any meaningful change or redemption.
“We may indeed wish it to be true, but there’s no evidence to support it,” Richardson said.
The 22-year-old high school dropout addressed the jury for only a few minutes during an opening statement in the death penalty hearing last week to insist he was not mentally ill.
“Other than the fact that I trust people that I shouldn’t, there is nothing wrong with me psychologically,” he told the jury, referring to his attorneys’ attempts to present evidence of mental health problems.
Although Roof admitted he wanted to prevent his attorneys from presenting such evidence, he said, “it isn’t because I have a mental illness that I don’t want you to know about and it isn’t because I’m trying to keep it a secret from you. The point is, I’m not going to lie to you.”
At the beginning of the penalty phase of the trial, jurors learned that Roof had continued to show no remorse weeks after the crime.
“I would like to make it crystal clear I do not regret what I did,” Roof wrote in a journal found in his jail cell six weeks after his arrest. “I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.”
Roof added that he did feel sorry for the “innocent white children forced to live in this sick country” and “I have shed a tear of self-pity for myself. I feel pity that I had to do what I did in the first place.”