Just a few hours after he told a crowded courtroom, “I still feel like I had to do it,” Dylann Roof was sentenced to death by a federal jury Tuesday for carrying out the mass shooting inside Charleston's Emanuel AME Church in a bid to spark a race war.
The 12-member panel – three black jurors, nine white – deliberated for a little less than three hours before unanimously deciding the 22-year-old self-avowed white supremacist should die for his crimes rather than spend his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel has scheduled a hearing for 9:30 a.m. Wednesday to formally impose that sentence and hear from loved ones who wish to address the killer.
Roof, who sat stone-faced and silent through most of his hate crimes trial, showed no emotion as the jury’s verdict was read. During his closing argument earlier in the day, he passed on the chance to argue for his life, saying “I’m not sure what good that will do anyway.”
The decision capped an anxious month and a half in Charleston as families of the dead and the community at-large waited to see how justice would be delivered in a case that shook the city to its core. The same jury that voted for death found Roof guilty in December of 33 federal offenses stemming from the mass shooting.
Praise for their work was swift in coming Tuesday from several quarters.
Outgoing U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who wrestled with the decision to seek the death penalty for 10 months before authorizing prosecutors to proceed, said the jury rendered a just verdict that holds Roof accountable for his actions.
“No verdict can bring back the nine we lost that day at Mother Emanuel," she said. "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. 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."
Melvin Graham, who lost his sister Cynthia Hurd in the shooting, echoed Lynch's sentiments and said his family felt justice had been served.
“This is a very hollow victory because my sister is still gone,” he said. “I wish that this verdict could have brought her back, but it can’t. What it can do is send a message to those who feel the way he (Roof) feels that this community will not tolerate it.”
Kevin Singleton, whose mother Myra Thompson was killed, said about the verdict: "I would like for that to marinate and travel to the nervous system of that coward. Justice was served. "
Roof's legal team issued a statement expressing sympathy for the families "so grievously hurt by Dylann Roof’s actions" and expressing regret that with potential appeals, the case could could drag on for "a very long time."
Roof's family also weighed in, saying they will always love him but share grief over his actions and pray for the church and the families he hurt.
"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," they stated.
Roof, who chose to represent himself during the penalty phase, had been an enigma through most of the trial. He spent most of his days staring at the table in front of him or shuffling papers. He didn't cross-examine any of the government's witnesses and chose to put on no defense of his own. He rested his case on Monday without calling a single witness or offering a shred of evidence in his behalf.
He indicated at the outset that he had taken the reins of his defense to prevent his accomplished legal team from introducing evidence about his psychological history, though he insisted he has no mental illness or anything to hide.
He did little in his closing argument to cast a different light on his actions, opting to address the jury with a disjointed and convoluted statement that lasted less than five minutes. He followed a federal prosecutor who had just delivered a two-hour discourse on why Roof deserved the ultimate punishment for his crimes. If that rattled Roof at all, he didn't show it.
Dressed in a blue sweater and slacks, he walked to the podium with a single sheet of yellow notebook paper and proceeded to tell the jury that the prosecution didn't understand him or the meaning of hate.
“Anyone, including the prosecution, who thinks I am filled with hate has no idea what real hate is,” Roof said in a hollow voice, speaking from a podium about 8 feet away from the jury box.
He insisted he wasn't lying when he told FBI agents that he doesn't hate black people. In his confession, he said, he made the distinction that he just doesn't like what black people do. Nor was he lying when he said he felt he had to act as he did, he said.
“I think it’s safe to say that someone in their right mind wouldn’t go into a church and kill people,” he said. “You might remember in my confession to the FBI, I told them I had to do it. Obviously, that isn’t true because I didn’t have to do it. I didn’t have to do anything. But what I meant when I said that was I felt like I had to do that. And I still feel like I had to do it.”
Loved ones of the nine people Roof killed crammed every seat in one side of the courtroom and listened with quiet but intense focus as he spoke. None of Roof's family members attended.
Roof went on to say that the prosecution and people who hate him have been misled, but he didn't say how. He said people hate for a reason. Sometimes that means they have been misled, other times not.
“Wouldn’t it be fair to say that the prosecution hates me since they are the ones trying to give me the death penalty?” he said. “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.”
Roof's brief statement contrasted with the government's lengthy and thorough closing in which Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson argued that Roof's hate-fueled massacre more than justified the death penalty in his case. Among other things, the attack involved substantial planning, targeted vulnerable people and killed multiple people, he said.
After soaking up online hate, Roof plotted for months to carry out the attack, Richardson said. He scouted out his target, stockpiled ammunition and practiced shooting the pistol he bought for his mission. He then walked into the church and methodically executed black parishioners who had welcomed him into the weekly Bible study and offered him a seat right next to their pastor.
"They learned with the sounds of gunfire that the defendant had not come to learn or receive The Word," Richardson said. "He came with a hate-filled heart and a Glock .45."
Richardson said Roof has shown a complete lack of remorse for his actions and has continued to write "racist filth" since his arrest, bragging in a jailhouse journal that he hadn't shed a single tear for those he killed. He also continued to decorate his shoes with white supremacist symbols while in jail, wearing the shoes to the very courtroom where his victims' families sat awaiting justice, Richardson said.
"You have seen nothing to indicate this defendant shows the possibility of meaningful change or redemption," he said.
Richardson also reminded the jury of what Charleston lost. He recounted for the jury who the victims were to their families, the community and their beloved Emanuel AME Church. He offered touching tributes, accompanied by family photos of each of the nine that flashed on courtroom screens.
The victims were Cynthia Hurd, 54, a library manager who stayed that night to support a friend; Susie Jackson, 87, a family matriarch who sang in the choir; Ethel Lance, 70, the church's sexton who found strength in gospel songs; DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49, a minister licensed to preach on the night of the shooting; Clementa Pinckney, 41, the church's pastor and a state senator; Tywanza Sanders, 26, a barber, poet and aspiring entrepreneur; Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, a sharp-dressing retired pastor who led the Bible study most nights; Sharonda Coleman Singleton, 45, a minister and beloved track coach; and Myra Thompson, 59, a church trustee and licensed minister who led the study lesson for the first time that night.
"He chose these great people," Richardson said. "He went there hoping to find the best among us."