CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Dylann Roof was convicted Thursday in the chilling attack on nine black church members who were shot to death last year during a Bible study, affirming the prosecution’s portrayal of a young white man who hoped the slayings would start a race war or bring back segregation.
Roof will return to court on Jan. 3rd, where jurors will decide whether he will receive the death penalty or life in prison. He has chosen to represent himself in the sentencing phase of the trial, CBS affiliate WCSC reports. Roof has said he will represent himself in the sentencing phase, but Judge Richard Gergel said Roof has until Jan. 3rd to make the the final decision if he wants to waive the right to an attorney.
Sharon Risher watched every day of the trial. She lost her mother, Ethel Lance, and two of her cousins in Roof’s rampage, and she told CBS News’ Mark Strassmann that “if this case didn’t warrant the death penalty, then I wouldn’t know what case would have.”
As the verdict was read, Roof just stared ahead, much as he did the entire trial. He was convicted of all 33 counts.
Family members of victims held hands and squeezed one another’s arms. One woman nodded her head every time the clerk said “guilty.”
Felicia Sanders survived the attack. Her son Tywanza was killed in front of her. During her testimony, she called out Roof for refusing to look at her.
“It goes to show you how cold and calloused he is. You slaughtered nine people, and you sit there and don’t even look?” Sanders told CBS News’ Mark Strassmann.
Former State Sen. Malcolm Graham, the brother of victim Cynthia Graham Hurd, tweeted “justice for Cynthia, justice for all!” and that racism “lost 33 times.”
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said she hopes the families of the nine black people shot to death can find some peace after the conviction.
South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said in a statement that the verdict is the “first and significant step in rendering justice for the nine victims ... if ever there was a justified guilty verdict, this was the case.”
Jurors will reconvene early next month to hear more testimony and decide whether Roof gets the death penalty or life in prison. Roof said he wants to act as his own attorney during that phase of the trial, although the judge in the case said Roof can change his mind up to Jan. 3, WCSC reported.
The Southern Poverty Law Center issued a statement saying “Charleston is still healing from Roof’s horrific, racially motivated crime, as is our nation. Our hearts go out to the victims’ families who will forever mourn the loss of their loved ones.”
About an hour into deliberations on Thursday, the jury wanted to rehear part of Roof’s videotaped confession and sent a note to U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel asking to listen again to Roof being questioned and talking about how many people he might have killed.
Roof told FBI agents he killed about five people, and was later surprised when the agents told him nine people were shot and killed in June 2015 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church.
Jurors heard from witnesses who testified Roof made multiple trips to Charleston in the months before the June 2015 attack at Emanuel AME Church that killed nine worshipers. They also heard from two survivors.
In a closing argument Thursday, defense attorney David Bruck conceded that Roof killed the victims and even praised the FBI investigation, but he also argued Roof was a suicidal, impressionable loner who never grasped the gravity of what he did. He asked jurors to consider what was going on in his head as he planned the killings.
The defense put up no witnesses. They tried to present evidence about his mental state, but the judge ruled it didn’t have anything to do with his guilt or innocence.
A prosecutor said Thursday that Roof was full of hate and “immense racial ignorance” when he carried out the attack. In his closing argument, assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams mocked Roof for calling himself brave in his racist-filled journal and his confession to the FBI, saying the real bravery came from the victims who tried to stop him as he fired 77 bullets.
“Those people couldn’t see the hatred in his heart any more than they could see the .45-caliber handgun and the eight magazines concealed around his waist,” Williams said.
Williams’ 50-minute closing argument filled the court with tension. At times, the prosecutor raised his voice, saying Roof was a cold, calculated killer.
“Hatred had no place in that sanctuary,” the prosecution said in their closing argument, WCSC reported. “But hatred came to those tables just the same.”
In a lengthy recording played earlier at trial, Roof told FBI agents he picked Mother Emanuel because of its historic significance in the black community. The church is the oldest in the South and one of its founders Denmark Vesey led a failed 1822 slave rebellion that drove the church underground.
Roof said he had felt compelled to act because of the way blacks treated whites and said the shootings were “minuscule” in comparison.
Instead of a race war, the single biggest change to emerge from the June 17, 2015, slayings that shocked the nation was the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina Statehouse, where it had flown for 50 years over the Capitol or on the grounds. Roof appeared with the flag in several photos in a racist manifesto.
In his confession to the FBI, the gunman said he carried out the killings after researching “black on white crime” on the internet. He said he chose a church because that setting posed little danger to him.