CHARLESTON, South Carolina — Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof should be sentenced to death, a federal jury found Tuesday.
And before they headed into deliberations Tuesday, the man who killed nine people in a 2015 massacre at a historically black Charleston, South Carolina, church told the jury he still feels he had no choice.
“In my confession to the FBI I told them that I had to do it, and obviously that’s not really true. … I didn’t have to do anything,” Roof said as he made his own five-minute closing argument in the penalty phase of his federal trial. “But what I meant when I said that was, I felt like I had to do it, and I still do feel like I had to do it.”
But he also suggested he’d like to be spared.
“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.”
His statement followed a prosecutor’s impassioned, two-hour argument in a Charleston courtroom urging jurors to give Roof the death penalty instead of their other option, life in prison without possibility of parole.
Roof, an avowed white supremacist, shot and killed nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in June 2015. Jurors convicted him last month of federal murder and hate crimes charges.
The prosecution and defense rested in the penalty phase on Monday, bringing to a close days of heartbreaking testimony from family and friends of victims who were killed.
Prosecutors argue that he’s a calculating killer who deserves the death penalty because of his motive, his lack of remorse and the shooting’s impact on the victims’ families.
Prosecutor reminds jurors of gruesome details
In his closing argument Tuesday morning, Assistant US Attorney Jay Richardson described the lives of all nine victims, cited Roof’s “racist hatred” and reminded the jurors of the testimony and evidence that convicted him:
• 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.”
• Richardson referred to what 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’s jailhouse journal
Earlier in the penalty phase, prosecutors presented evidence that included chilling writings from a jailhouse journal Roof wrote after the attack.
“I would like to make it crystal clear. I do not regret what I did,” Roof wrote in the journal. “I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.”
Friends and relatives of victims slain in the shooting gave emotional testimony in court before Tuesday, some of them sobbing on the stand.
As they made their case, prosecutors played haunting recordings of the victims preaching, praying and singing.
Roof, 22, has been representing himself in court since this phase of the trial began.
He did not question witnesses, but filed several motions objecting that their testimony had been too emotional.
In his brief opening statement last week, he told jurors that he doesn’t have mental health problems.
Facing the death penalty
If jurors in this trial decide to spare Roof’s life, he could still face a death sentence. He’s also set to be tried on state murder charges, and prosecutors have said they’ll also seek the death penalty in that case.
Serial killer Gary Lee Sampson was the last person to get a federal death sentence. He’s one of 63 federal prisoners, including Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, awaiting execution, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based nonprofit.
Only three federal inmates have been executed in the United States since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988 after a 16-year moratorium:
• Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh on June 11, 2001, six years after he killed 168 people.
• Juan Raul Garza on June 19, 2001, eight years after he was convicted of running a marijuana drug ring and killing three people.
• Louis Jones on March 18, 2003, eight years after he kidnapped and murdered 19-year-old Army Pvt. Tracie McBride.
But this won’t fill the hole left by the victims of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church shooting. These are the faces Charleston, South Carolina, will never forget
THE REV. CLEMENTA PINCKNEY
“He was a prodigy of the ministry … He had a booming voice, inspired others and … used his gift to better other people.”
Pinckney, 41, was the pastor of Emanuel AME. He was also a South Carolina legislator.
DANIEL SIMMONS SR.
“Dan Simmons, for his service to the community, did not deserve to die in the doorway of his church with Roof stepping over him.”
Simmons was on the staff at Emanuel and regularly attended Wednesday night Bible study sessions. The 74-year-old initially survived the shooting at the church, but died during surgery.
“A woman who people flocked to, who people were inspired by. Her greatest strength was in being a mother, a mother of three children who she lived for and she lived her life through.”
Singleton was a speech therapist and track coach at Goose Creek High School. The 45-year-old was also a reverend at the church.
“She was the mother to four children. … She made every sacrifice for those children.”
Doctor, 49, was a school administrator at her alma mater, Southern Wesleyan University.
“When her sister was diagnosed with cancer, the first words she said were, ‘I got you.’ … Cynthia Hurd, after 31 years of hard work, was about to retire and spend time with her family. She deserved that retirement, not to be shot.”
Hurd, 54, was a longtime librarian in Charleston. She was baptized in the church and went there her whole life.
“She was always making sure things got done. … She planned to carry on ministry and spend the years she had in her life with her husband and her family.”
Thompson was teaching the Bible study when she was killed. She was 59.
“She was the glue that held her family together. Sometimes a loss is too great and that loss has affected the entire family.”
Lance, 70, was a city worker for 34 years. Until 2002, her dominion was the Gaillard Auditorium, where she ran operations backstage.
“She was always available. You will hear how she traveled to see them (her grandchildren), how important she was in their lives. You will hear how she did not deserve to die the way she did.”
Jackson, 87, was a choir member and on the usher board of the church, where she had been a member for many years.
“Everyone who knew him knew he would do great things. He had an incredible future to look forward to. He was talented, funny and loved by so many.”
Witnesses said Sanders, 26, died trying to save his aunt. The day of the shooting, he’d posted a quote on Facebook from baseball great Jackie Robinson: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”