Dylann Roof has been sentenced to die for the June 2015 mass murders of nine black men and women in a racially-motivated attack on a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
A jury deliberated for about four hours before finding that the 22-year-old, a professed white supremacist, should be put to death. The verdict was unanimous.
Before reaching their verdict, the jury asked the judge a series of questions that seemed to indicate that they were leaning toward life imprisonment. But as the verdict was read, the jurors agreed unanimously that several aggravating factors had been achieved, including a lack of remorse.
“The horrific aspects of this case justify the death penalty,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson said in his closing statement at the sentencing. “It outweighs anything else you might consider on the other side.”
As the verdict was read, Roof stared straight ahead in the courtroom, his hands clasped in front of him. He showed no emotion. As the jurors were polled, he looked down at some papers on the defense table.
Roof then stood and requested new lawyers, to seek a retrial, though the judge said he was not inclined to grant that request.
His sentencing “sends a strong message” about the intolerance for hate crimes, Malcolm Graham told the Associated Press. Graham’s sister, Cynthia Hurd, was killed in the 2015 attack.
In December, the same jury of three black people and nine white people found Roof guilty on 33 federal counts, including hate crimes resulting in death, religious obstruction and use of a firearm to commit murder during a crime of violence. Roof had pleaded not guilty.
Before sentencing deliberations began on Tuesday, Roof addressed the jury and suggested that they should spare his life.
“I felt like I had to do it, and I still feel like I had to do it,” he said. “From what I’ve been told, I have a right to ask you to give me a life sentence, but I’m not sure what good that will do anyway. But what I will say is only one of you has to disagree with the other jurors.”
In his rambling five-minute statement, Roof also talked about whether he hated African Americans. “The FBI asked if I hated black people,” he said. “I said I don’t like what black people do.”
He later added, “Wouldn’t it be fair to say that the prosecution hates me since they are the ones trying to give me the death penalty? You could say, ‘Of course they hate you. Everyone hates you. They have good reason to hate you.’ I’m not denying that. My point is that anyone who hates anything, in their mind, has a good reason.”
In a 2015 manifesto seized by authorities, written after his arrest, Roof offered no apology for the murders.
“I would like to make it crystal clear I do not regret what I did,” he wrote, according to the New York Times. “I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.”
The Horrific Crime
Authorities say Roof sat alongside his victims for about an hour inside the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston before opening fire.
“In that moment, a man of immense hatred walked that room shooting person after person after person, stopping only so he could reload more magazines and kill more people,” assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams told the jury in December.
“It was an act of tremendous cowardice, shooting people as they have their eyes closed in prayer, shooting them on the ground.”
The victims were: Tywanza Sanders, 26; Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; Ethel Lance, 70; Myra Thompson, 59; and Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74.
Prosecutors said Roof planned the massacre carefully, scouting the church nearly two years before the attack and even traveling six times from his home 90 minutes away in Eastover, South Carolina.
He has admitted that he hoped to start a race war, according to the New York Times.
There is “no room in a civilized society for hatred, racism and discrimination,” Hurd’s brother Graham told the AP.
Rejected Mental Health Defense
Roof represented himself in court. Although Judge Richard Gergel called the move “strategically unwise,” Roof had a legal right to serve as his own lawyer after being found competent to stand trial, according to the New York Times.
He rejected a defense based on his mental health — which might have been his best defense to avoid the death penalty, according to the Times.
“I want to state that I am morally opposed to psychology,” Roof wrote in a journal found in his car. “It is a Jewish Invention, and does nothing but invent diseases and tell people they have problems when they don’t.”
Earlier this month, Roof wrote to Judge Gergel that he would “not be calling mental health experts or presenting mental health evidence.”
Roof did not call any witnesses or present any evidence during the sentencing phase of the trial. He will be remanded to custody and will be formally sentenced on Wednesday.
By law, he is allowed to appeal the decision. He also faces a state trial in South Carolina, which has been postponed.
“We want to express our sympathy to all of the families who were so grievously hurt by Dylann Roof’s actions,” Roof’s lawyers said in a statement, according to reporter Maurice Chammah. “Today’s sentencing decision means that this case will not be over for a very long time.”
Roof’s family also released a statement following the sentencing, according to Chammah: “We are Dylann Roof’s family. We will always love Dylann. We will struggle as long as we live to understand why he committed this horrible attack, which caused so much pain to so many good people.
“We wish to express the grief we feel for the victims of his crimes, and our sympathy to the many families he has hurt. We continue to pray for the Emanuel AME families and the Charleston community.”