With his life on the line, Dylann Roof opted Monday to offer no witnesses or evidence in his defense as a federal jury prepares Tuesday to decide whether he should be put to death for killing nine black worshipers in Charleston.
Acting as his own attorney and with none of his family in the courtroom, the 22-year-old white supremacist declined to mount a defense in his hate crimes trial. He rested his case without adding further comment.
Closing arguments are scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. It’s anyone’s guess whether Roof will try to convince the 12-member jury to spare his life. He gave only a brief opening statement, insisting that he isn't mentally ill.
The same panel – three black jurors, nine white – found Roof guilty last month of 33 offenses related to the June 2015 mass shooting at the South’s oldest AME church. They will choose between two options for Roof: the death penalty, or a life prison term without the possibility of parole.
Under the federal death penalty statute, the judge is instructed to impose whichever penalty jurors choose. If they fail to reach a unanimous decision, the judge must hand down a life sentence.
Federal prosecutors wrapped up their case Monday after three-and-a-half days of sorrow-filled testimony from loved ones of the nine victims who described how the deaths left devastating holes in their lives. Monday morning was devoted to the life and dreams of Tywanza Sanders, 26, the youngest of those killed in the massacre at Emanuel AME Church.
Shirrene Goss told the jury that her little brother was a talented and determined young man who worked hard to succeed in life. She was 13 when he was born and helped care for him when he was young. They developed such a close bond that when she got married, young Tywanza had a long heart-to-heart talk with her new husband.
Tywanza then pulled her aside to make sure she was happy with her choice. She was.
"Then I like him too," he told her.
Tywanza called regularly to seek her advice on new endeavors he was trying and he was always surprising her. He called once to say he had joined his college choir, though she had never heard him sing. He taught himself guitar and keyboards with no formal training.
"He had a great amount of fearlessness," she said. "If something didn't work, he would not give up. He would find something else."
Goss said her younger brother was the fun uncle, lighting up the room with his giant smile and large personality. But he also worked hard, adopting hashtags such as #grindovermatter and #moneymotivatemoney.
"I never really saw him down. He wasn't one of those people who had a pity party," Goss said. "He would not give up."
One of the most tragic things, his sister added, is that she will never see him realize the fruits of his labors or marry and have kids of his own.
However, Tywanza did leave behind troves of rap music and poetry, including more than 200 poems. He even wrote a biography of his father, which the family discovered after this death. His mother, Felicia Sanders, gave it to her husband at Christmas.
She described her special relationship with her baby boy, who rushed home from college when she told him she had cancer. He spent the night with her in the hospital when she underwent surgery. During her recovery, he encouraged her to get out and took her for a walk on the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.
"A body at rest stays at rest. A body in motion stays in motion," he chided. So, she went.
Later, he tattooed her name on his chest.
Although he had graduated from Allen University, Tywanza wanted more education. Just weeks after his death, he was supposed to begin classes at Full Sail University in Florida for audio engineering in hopes of becoming an entertainment attorney.
One of the hardest days after the shooting was when a Full Sail official called the Sanders' home to inquire why he wasn't in class.
"We said, 'He died,'" Felicia Sanders recalled in a soft voice.
Tywanza's father, Tyrone Sanders, told the jury that his son, a tall and sinewy young man who modeled for a time, always had a deep reservoir of energy. He took his first steps at 10 months and loved playing baseball and football when he was a child.
Tyrone Sanders recalled the pride he felt when his son graduated from college and the bonding moments they spent fishing and taking road trips. "We became road dogs," he said. "Wherever I went, he wanted to ride."
Now, he takes those trips alone.
"I miss him a whole lot," he said quietly. "I ain't got nobody to ride with. I ain't got nobody to fish with. I just wish he was here."
Felicia Sanders provided gut-wrenching testimony earlier in the trial during the guilt phase. As the prosecution's first witness, she described how Roof opened fire with a .45-caliber Glock during a prayer to close out the church's weekly Bible study.
On Monday, however, Sanders brought to court her favorite memories of Tywanza, a young man who would hug old ladies in the church and wanted his fellow worshipers to feel special.
"To those of you who haven't met (Tywanza), y'all missed out," she said.