Facing death for church shooting, Dylann Roof says: “I still feel like I had to do it”
CHARLESTON, S.C. - Dylann Roof, the convicted shooter in the assault on Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, that left a total of 12 victims, killing nine of them, told jurors Tuesday that he will not ask them to spare his life.
Jurors have begun deliberating over whether Roof, 22, should get the death penalty or life in prison for his crimes. Their decision must be unanimous. If they are unable to agree, a life sentence is automatically imposed.
In his closing arguments to the jury, Roof, who is acting as his own attorney, continued to refuse to ask to be allowed to live.
Roof walked to the podium less than 10 feet from the jury box with a yellow sheet of paper. He put it down and looked past jurors for about 30 seconds before beginning to read off the page.
Every juror looked directly at Roof as he spoke for about five minutes. A few nodded as he reminded them that they said during jury selection they could fairly weigh the factors of his case. Only one of them, he noted, had to disagree to spare his life.
“I have the right to ask you to give me a life sentence, but I’m not sure what good it would do anyway,” he said.
He gave a closing argument of about five minutes on Tuesday, saying at one point he felt like he had to commit the slayings, and “I still feel like I had to do it.”
Roof did not explain his actions to jurors, saying only that “anyone who hates anything in their mind has a good reason for it.” In his FBI confession, Roof said he hoped the massacre would bring back segregation or start a race war.
Roof paused several times, but jurors never took their eyes off him. After one of the pauses, he abruptly said, “That’s all,” quickly gathered his sheet of paper and walked back to the defense table.
Jurors began their deliberations early Tuesday afternoon. After a few hours, they raised several questions about his potential imprisonment.
The jury on Tuesday asked U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel for clarification on some of the mitigating factors they’re being asked to consider, including if Roof could safely be confined if he were sentenced to life in prison. The judge told jurors to re-read the instructions he provided them to figure out what that means.
Jurors also asked to re-watch a speech by the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was one of the nine people Roof killed during a Bible study in 2015.
Prosecutors said earlier Tuesday he should be executed because he had a “hateful heart” and the young white man targeted the black church in a racially motivated attack.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson told jurors on Roof’s crimes more than meet the standards they’ll consider for a possible death sentence.
Richardson said the way Roof mercilessly gunned down the black parishioners at Emanuel AME Church, coupled with his lack of remorse, mean he should receive the harshest sentence available.
Richardson also reviewed emotional testimony jurors have heard about each of the victims and the voids created by their deaths.
Now, after closing arguments, and after hearing testimony from relatives of those slain in the 2015 attack during a Wednesday night Bible study, the focus in Roof’s trial again switches to a new set of 12 people: the jury.
In a courtroom a mile from the slayings, the same jury last month convicted Roof of 33 federal crimes, including hate crimes and obstruction of religion. After a holiday break, jurors returned last week to court, where for four days prosecutors laid out their case for why Roof should be executed. The government called nearly two dozen friends and relatives who shared cherished memories and opined about a future without a mother, father, sister or brother.
They shed tears and their voices shook, but none of them said whether Roof should face the death penalty or life in prison for gunning down the church members. That will be left up to the jury, with nine white and three black members.
Jurors will get the case after closing arguments finish from prosecutors and Roof, who has represented himself during sentencing but has put up no fight for his life. He didn’t call any witnesses, present any evidence and so far has not asked for mercy.
He did try to limit the amount of heart-wrenching testimony the jurors heard, but with only little success.
Survivor Jennifer Pinckney talked about the life of her husband, church pastor and state Sen. Clementa Pinckney. She spoke about the harrowing minutes she spent huddled underneath a desk with her youngest daughter as shots rang out in the next room, unsure if the shooter was coming her way.
In the hours that followed, the mother had to somehow explain the death to her two daughters.
“I sat in front of the girls, and I basically told them that something had happened,” she said. “I think that that’s the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do.”
The Rev. Anthony Thompson cried as he described a conversation with his wife, Myra, about their future plans to move and pursue studies and careers in the church.
“She was my world, and she was gone,” he said.
Survivor Felicia Sanders, who gave powerful testimony during the guilt phase of Roof’s trial, wrapped up prosecutors’ case last Wednesday, talking about her creative 26-year-old son, the youngest victim, and his commitment to his faith and Emanuel.
“That night they were getting basic instruction before leaving Earth,” Sanders said. “I did not know that was going to be the life of them.”
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