Jury Sentences Roof to Death for Church Murders

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(CN) – A federal jury sentenced Dylann Roof to death on Tuesday for the murder of nine black parishioners in a Charleston, South Carolina church in 2015.

Roof is the first individual sentenced to death for federal hate crimes. He stared straight ahead and fidgeted with his hands as he awaited the verdict.

Afterward the verdict was read, he immediately asked U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel to appoint him new lawyers to file his motion for a new trial.

Gergel told Roof he thinks his lawyers acted “admirably” during the trial and that he feels Roof would be making a mistake to push them aside. The judge then adjourned court until 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, when Roof’s formal sentencing will occur.

Eventually he will be sent to the federal death row in Terre Haute,  Indiana where he will await execution by lethal injection. The federal government hasn’t executed a prisoner since March 2003.

Roof’s family released a statement moments after the verdict was announced saying they will struggle for the rest of their lives to understand why he did what he did and apologized to his victims’ families.

Roof was convicted in December of carrying out the nine murders and wounding three others during a June 17, 2015, Bible study class at the Emanuel AME Church, the oldest black church in the south.

He later told investigators he chose the church as a target because he wanted to touch off a race war that he believed would further the cause of white supremacy.

Roof himself addressed the jury shortly before it was handed the case, telling it, “from what I’ve been told, I have the right to ask you to give me a life sentence, but I’m not sure what good that would do anyway.”

In a brief, but rambling closing statement, Roof said, “I think it’s safe to say no one in their right mind would go in a church and shoot people. In my confession I told FBI I had to, but that’s not really true.

“I didn’t have to do anything. No one made me.  What I meant was I felt like I had to do it and I still feel like I had to do it,” he said.

“Wouldn’t it be fair to say the prosecution hates me since they are trying to give me the death penalty?” Roof continued.

“Of course they do. Everyone hates me. They have good reason. I’m not denying anyone hates me. But I would say in this case the prosecution, along with anybody else who hates me, they are the ones who have been misled,” he said.

“Anyone, including the prosecution, who thinks I’m filled with hatred has no idea what real hate is,” Roof added. “They don’t know anything about hate. They don’t know what real hatred looks like. They think they do, but they don’t really.”

Roof concluded his statement by reminding the jurors sitting stone-faced and grim just 10 feet away from him that only one of them had to disagree with giving him the death penalty to spare his life.

But in a rebuttal, prosecutor Jay Richardson said, “This is a defendant that continues to believe it is worth it … that he has done the right thing.”

“Dylann Roof didn’t mitigate what he did during this trial or his closing statement. he wanted to justify modern day lynching. Don’t let that be,” Richardson said.

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

But the jury and those in the courtroom hadn’t heard the last from Roof. He asked Judge Gergel to allow his standby counsel, David Bruck, of the Washington and Lee School of Law in Virginia, to raise his objections to the charges being read to the jury.

After Gergel granted the motion, Bruck argued Roof should have been allowed to introduce evidence that he wouldn’t be “problematic” if he were sentenced to life in prison.

He was referring to an assertion from the prosecution that if Roof were jailed for the rest of his life, he would spend his days trying to foment racial hatred and distributing racist material.

Bruck also said that inflammatory writing that Roof committed to paper while in jail should not have been made public, and finally, that the jury should be instructed on both “gateway” and “mitigating” factors before they started Roof’s fate.

The jury got the case at 1:34 p.m. Tuesday deliberated for a little over three hours following the closing arguments and last-minute maneuvering.

On Tuesday morning, prosecutors described the 21-year-old as having a “heart filled with hate.”

“You know about the last moments that they shared together,” Richardson said of Roof and his victims.

“They welcomed the defendant with a kind word, a bible and a handout and a chair right beside Rev. Pinckney,” the prosecutor said.

Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the church, was one of the nine people murdered.

“Then shot after shot rang out,” Richardson continued, reminding the jurors that Roof reloaded his Glock 45-caliber pistol seven times before he finally stopped firing.

Richardson then talked of Roof’s preparations for the massacre, calling them “calculated, misguided, but thoughtful.”

“He spent years acquiring this new hatred,” Richardson said. “And he chose this church because it was and is the heart and soul of the community.”

“He knew he was targeting good people. These weren’t people who only showed up at church on Easter Sunday. There were the every Sunday and every Wednesday people. These were the pillars of the Emanuel AME Church.”

Throughout the prosecution’s nearly two-hour long closing statement, Roof, dressed in a blue sweater and slacks, jotted notes onto a yellow legal pad.

The former Lexington County, South Carolina resident chose to represent himself during the penalty phase of his trial, but until his closing statement had said little in his own defense.

The unanimous decision in favor of death by the jury of 10 women and two men prompted gasps and sobbing in the courtroom.

Roof’s court-appointed standby attorneys repeatedly tried to intervene on his behalf during the penalty phase of his trial, arguing, unsuccessfully, that he was incapable of successfully representing himself.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel rejected these assertions, holding that Roof had twice undergone a mental evaluation during the trial and was found to be competent.

However, Gergel did repeatedly warn the convicted murderer that representing himself was ill-advised.

But Roof was insistent. And it appeared over the course of the trial the past four days that what he was most concerned about was preventing a defense on his behalf that would have called his mental health into question.

Melvin Graham, brother of Roof victim Cynthia Hurd, was the only family member of one of the murder victims to address reporters after the verdict was read.

The members of other victim’s families said they will speak Wednesday following Roof’s formal sentencing.

Speaking in the courtyard directly outside the federal courthouse, Graham described the death sentence imposed on Roof as hollow victory “because my sister is still gone … and when he killed my sister, a piece of us died.”

He said he wouldn’t have supported life in prison for Roof, adding that the gunman made a conscious decision to open fire on the Bible study group the night of the murders.

“It would be hard to say that this person deserves to live when he decided nine other people don’t,” Graham said. “He took them away from us. He’s in God’s hands now.”

Asked if he can ever forgive Dylann Roof for what he did, Graham said, “At this time, no.”

“I don’t know how you move forward,” he said. “Forgiveness might come in time, with healing. But that time is not now.”

Also commenting on the verdict was Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who said in a statement, “Today, a jury of his peers considered the actions Roof took on that fateful day, and they rendered a verdict that will hold him accountable for his choices.”

“No verdict can bring back the nine we lost that day at Mother Emanuel. And no verdict can heal the wounds of the five church members who survived the attack or the souls of those who lost loved ones to Roof’s callous hand,” Lynch continued. “But we hope that the completion of the prosecution provides the people of Charleston – and the people of our nation – with a measure of closure. We thank the jurors for their service, the people of Charleston for their strength and support, and the law enforcement community in South Carolina and throughout the country for their vital work on this case.”

Beth Drake, U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina also released a statement.

“Motivated by racist hatred, Dylann Roof murdered and attempted to murder innocent African-American parishioners as they worshiped in the historic Mother Emanuel church,” Drake said. “But, contrary to Roof’s desire to sow the seeds of hate, his acts did not tear this community apart.

“Instead of agitating racial tensions as he had hoped, Roof’s deadly attack inside Mother Emanuel became an attack on all of us, and the community stood in solidarity,” she continued.  “Now, following a trial, the jury has rendered a sentence that underscores the severity of his crimes. We here in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice want to express our condolences to the victims and their loved ones, and to commend the dedication and hard work by the jury, the law enforcement officers that worked the case, the victim advocate team, and the court to ensure a fair and just process.”