Dylann Roof convicted in church slaying trial
CHARLESTON, South Carolina — A jury has found Dylann Roof guilty of all 33 federal charges he faced after last year’s massacre at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
In the next phase of the trial, scheduled to begin in January, jurors will weigh whether Roof, 22, should be sentenced to death or spend the rest of his life in prison.
Deliberations began Thursday afternoon in Roof’s murder trial after attorneys made closing arguments.
Shortly after deliberations started, the jury asked to again watch the video in which Roof confessed to two FBI agents. Specifically, the jury wanted to see the portion where Roof was unsure of how many people he had killed.
Roof, 22, a self-declared white supremacist, has admitted to last year’s killings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
“He needs to be held accountable for every bullet,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams told the jury, emphasizing what he said was the depth of Roof’s hatred.
“The parishioners could not have seen the hatred in his heart,” Williams said. “He sat and waited until they were at their most vulnerable.”
Family members of the victims sobbed as Williams spoke.
Defense attorney David Bruck said Williams was correct about the events.
“Why, why did Dylann Roof do this?” Bruck said. “What was the explanation?”
Bruck asked the jury to “look beyond the surface” and to ask, “Is there something more to this story?”
The closing arguments come after a week of dramatic arguments and chilling testimony about the June 2015 massacre.
Prosecutors presented Roof as a “cold and calculating” killer. Jurors saw a witness whose son was killed sobbing on the stand. They heard an FBI agent read a series of Roof’s racist writings. And they watched a video of Roof laughing after admitting he killed the victims.
The defense did not call any witnesses, and Roof did not testify.
In a statement, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said: “It is my hope that the survivors, the families, and the people of South Carolina can find some peace in the fact that justice has been served.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, in praising the verdict, said Roof “represents the modern face of domestic terrorism: the extremist who acts alone after being radicalized online.”
“When Roof searched ‘black on white crime,’ he found a flood of white supremacist propaganda. Once hard to access, that propaganda is now just a few keystrokes away from anyone, anywhere, who has access to the Internet,” President Richard Cohen said in the statement. “Counternarratives that expose the lies behind the propaganda often don’t make the first page of search results. It’s a problem we must address.”
Jurors may hear directly from Roof later. The sentencing phase of his trial would start on Tuesday, January 3. And Roof has said he wants to represent himself in that part of the case.
Roof has pleaded not guilty to 33 federal charges, including:
• Nine counts of violating the Hate Crime Act resulting in death
• Nine counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence
• Nine counts of obstruction of exercise of religion resulting in death
• Three counts of violating the Hate Crime Act involving an attempt to kill
• Three counts of obstruction of exercise of religion involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon
Roof also faces nine counts of murder and other charges in the state court system. His trial in that case is also scheduled to start in January.