WASHINGTON, January 10, 2017 — After pleading guilty to killing nine parishioners of Emanuel AME church on the night of June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof told jurors he could ask for life in prison for the slayings, but that he is not sure “what good that would do”:
“From what I’ve been told, I have a right to ask you to give me a life sentence, but I’m not sure what good that will do anyway,” Roof said. “But what I will say is only one of you has to disagree with the other jurors.”
On that summer night, Roof went to a historic black church in Charleston with a gun and a “hateful heart,” the prosecutor said, and should be put to death for killing those who had assembled for Bible study, welcoming the young white man to their group of twelve.
“They welcomed a 13th person that night … with a kind word, a Bible, a handout and a chair,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson said during his closing argument at Roof’s sentencing. “He had come with a hateful heart and a Glock .45.”
Richardson reminded jurors who each of the victims was, calling nearly two dozen friends and relatives, each with a memory of a mother, father, sister or brother. Jurors heard how life living without the victims is different and sad. Richardson talked about their roles in the church, the community and within their families. He talked about the loss caused by their deaths.
Richardson juxtaposed the “particularly good people” Roof murdered with the horrific nature of Roof’s crimes, his racist views and “his belief in Hitler as a saint, as an icon, as someone to be emulated.”
He described the bloody crime scene that Roof, a then 22-year-old white man, created. He said that Roof waited until the group’s final prayer—a moment of peace when everyone’s eyes were closed—to begin firing. He described how Roof stood over some of the fallen, shooting them again as they lay on the floor, dead or dying. According to Richardson:
- Roof was at the church three previous times to scout his target.
- He sat with the group for 40 minutes before shooting.
- He pulled the trigger “more than 75 times … reloading seven times” as he stood over his victims, shooting them repeatedly.
- He “showed not one ounce of remorse.”
- Roof had told investigators in a recorded interview that “somebody had to do it,” in part because “black people are killing white people every day.”
“Those are the words of an extraordinary racist who believed it was justified,” Richardson said.
Roof represented himself during the sentencing phase, though he had legal counsel at the table to assist him. In his remarks Roof contradicted himself, telling the jury that prosecutors misled them about what they called his “deep hatred of African-Americans.”
In his comments, which lasted about five minutes, he said that he has never said he hates African-Americans, but that “I don’t like what black people do.”
“And anyone, including the prosecution, that thinks that I’m filled with hate has no idea what real hate is,” Roof said. “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.”
But the jury heard about Roof’s extensive planning of the murders, his lack of remorse and the damage he caused to the family members of those he killed.
“We learned about the defendant’s cold and calculated choices that caused those losses to happen,” Richardson said. “His racist ideology the acquiring of that ideology, that’s part of his preparation that’s part of what led him to walk in that door at Mother Emanuel on June 17 (2015).”
“He also chose to videotape himself doing it so that he could see the very last images that these victims would see,” Richardson said. “He wanted to see what he would look like as he stood over them.”
Richardson read from the Roof’s journal in which Roof writes, “I do not regret what I did. I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.”
The prosecutor reminded jurors that even during this trial, Roof had entered the courtroom wearing hand drawn racist symbols on his shoes.
Richardson spoke about Roof’s time spent on racist websites, eventually creating his own page that he used to spread “his message of hate; his message of revenge; his message of agitation.” “He spent years acquiring this deep hatred,” Richardson said. “He ‘had to do it.’ Those are the words of an extraordinary racist.”
Richardson said Roof’s racism is not passionate or angry, but cold and calculated.
“His response is to double down,” said Richardson in response to Roof’s closing argument. “It’s to continue to tell you the same thing. He wants you to believe that you have been misled. That indeed he was justified. That he was justified in committing a modern-day lynching.
Richardson then asked the jury to remember his taped confession to the FBI in which he said “had to do it.” In court on Tuesday, Roof referenced that statement saying “that’s obviously not true.”
“I didn’t have to do it … But what I meant when I said that was that I felt that I had to do it. And I still feel that I had to do it.”
Richardson advocated for the victims, asking the jury to sentence Roof to death for his action. The 10 women and two men recommended the death penalty for all 18 eligible counts after deliberating for just three hours.
Judge Richard Gergel will formally sentence Roof on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. ET