Dylann Roof Sentenced to Death, 1st to Get Death Penalty for Federal Hate Crimes
Dylann Roof, 22, has been sentenced to death for killing nine black churchgoers during a Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina.
The jury’s decision had to be unanimous to sentence Roof to death. This is the first time a death penalty verdict was rendered in a federal hate crimes case, the Justice Department said.
The jury began deliberating Roof’s fate earlier today, after Roof told the jury in a closing statement, “I still feel like I had to do it.”
The verdict comes at the end of the federal death penalty case in which he was convicted of hate crimes resulting in death, among other charges. Roof also faces a state trial in which he may again face the death penalty.
Melvin Graham, brother of slain churchgoer Cynthia Hurd, said after the sentence was read, “Today we had justice for my sister.”
But he called Roof’s sentence a “very hollow victory because my sister’s still gone. I wish that this verdict could have brought her back.”
Graham said he supported the death penalty in this case, calling Roof’s crimes “executions.” He added that Roof took nine lives in a brutal fashion with no remorse.
“It’s a hard thing to know that someone’s going to lose their life,” Graham said of Roof. “But when you look at the totality of what happened, it’s hard to say that this person deserves to live.”
Roof’s family said in a statement, “We will always love Dylann. 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. We wish to express the grief we feel for the victims of his crimes, and our sympathy to the many families he has hurt. We continue to pray for the Emanuel AME families and the Charleston community.”
Roof’s defense said in a statement that the “sentencing decision means that this case will not be over for a very long time. We are sorry that, despite our best efforts, the legal proceedings have shed so little light on the reasons for this tragedy.”
The defense added that they express sympathy “to all of the families who were so grievously hurt by Dylann Roof’s actions.”
Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement, “Roof sought out and opened fire on African-American parishioners engaged in worship. … He did so because of their race. And he did so to interfere with their peaceful exercise of religion. The victims in the case led lives as compassionate civic and religious leaders; devoted public servants and teachers; and beloved family members and friends.
“No verdict can bring back the nine we lost that day at Mother Emanuel,” Lynch continued. “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.”
Graham told reporters after the sentence was read, “I don’t know how you move forward. … Cynthia’s not here. A piece of our family’s gone. … A piece of each one of us died.”
“I lost a friend and a confidante,” he continued. “How do I move forward without a part of my body? … I think what I’m going to try to do is keep my sister’s name, her legacy alive as best I can.”
Roof told the jury on Tuesday in his closing argument, “I think that it’s safe to say that no one in their right mind wants to go into a church and kill people.”
He added, “In my confession to the FBI, I told them that I had to do it.
“But obviously that’s not really true. I didn’t have to do it, and no one made me do it,” Roof said. “What I meant when I said that was I felt like I had to do it, and I still feel like I had to do it.”
Roof said today in his closing argument, “I think that it’s safe to say that no one in their right mind wants to go into a church and kill people.
The government is asking the jury to sentence Roof to death. In the sentencing phase of the federal trial, the government laid out its case over four days, with testimony from the loved ones of victims. The family members and friends shared personal stories about the victims and described what life has been like since the shooting. Jurors cried in court during some of the emotional testimony.
Roof, 22, who is representing himself, refused to testify and did not call any witnesses to the stand. Last week, Roof spoke for less than five minutes in his opening statement, telling the jury there is nothing wrong with him psychologically. He did not apologize for his actions.
Roof said to the jury Tuesday as he concluded his remarks, “Only one of you has to disagree.”
“I know that at least some of you were asked during jury selection … if you were willing to stand up for your own opinion,” Roof said.
In the government’s closing argument Tuesday morning, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson laid out the government’s argument for the death penalty.
Richardson recounted to the jury how on the night of the shooting, the unsuspecting victims, who had gathered for a Bible study, welcomed Roof, a stranger, to join them. Roof then opened fire on them; the victims were vulnerable targets with their eyes closed in prayer, Richardson said, according to WCIV.
When Roof shot pastor and South Carolina State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, another churchgoer tried to intervene, Richardson said. Then Roof executed them one after another, Richardson said.
Richardson reminded the jury of how Roof stood over survivor Polly Sheppard and told her to shut up, and that he was leaving her alive to tell the story.
Tywanza Sanders, who was fatally shot by Roof, told his killer they meant him no harm. Meanwhile, Tywanza Sanders’ mother, survivor Felicia Sanders, shielded a small girl from the bullets, and they played dead during the shooting, Richardson said, WCIV reported.
After each shot, Richardson said, Roof paused and considered his next move, WCIV reported.
“He continued to believe it was worth it,” Richardson said. “Not one ounce of remorse.”
Among those who testified for the government during the sentencing phase was Jennifer Pinckney, wife of slain pastor and Sen. Clementa Pinckney. Jennifer Pinckney told the jury her husband was a loving and devoted father to their two young daughters, then 6 and 12.
She and her younger daughter were in an office at the church on the night of the shooting. She recounted to the jury how they hid under a desk as gunshots rang out. She said they put their hands over each other’s mouth. She said Roof tried to open the door to where she was, but it was locked.
She testified that the hardest thing she ever had to do was tell her children that their father had been killed.
On June 17, 2015, Roof entered the predominantly black Emanuel AME Church with the “intent of killing African-Americans engaged in the exercise of their religious beliefs,” according to the federal indictment against him. The parishioners welcomed Roof into their Bible study group, according to the indictment, after which Roof drew his pistol and opened fire.
The 33 federal counts against Roof included hate crimes resulting in death and obstruction of exercise of religion resulting in death.
Roof’s defense attorney David Bruck told the court last month that Roof “did it,” but added, “Our society does not order the death penalty if there are reasons to choose life.”
Roof also faces a state trial in which he may again face the death penalty. The state trial, which was scheduled to begin this month, has been delayed indefinitely.