Charleston church jurors shown video of Roof admitting to shooting

Dylann Roof says he saved bullets so he could kill himself if confronted by police

‘I went to that church in Charleston, and, you know, I did it,’ Dylann Roof told two FBI officials in June. File photograph:  Jason Miczek/Reuters

‘I went to that church in Charleston, and, you know, I did it,’ Dylann Roof told two FBI officials in June. File photograph: Jason Miczek/Reuters

 

In an interview last year with FBI agents, Dylann Roof admitted to opening fire at a prominent black church in Charleston “because somebody had to do something” about crime by African-Americans, and he appeared stunned to learn that his rampage had left nine people dead.

“I went to that church in Charleston, and, you know, I did it,” Roof told two FBI officials in an interview that was videotaped in June 2015 and viewed by jurors on Friday, the third day of his federal death penalty trial.

Roof’s defence lawyers have long acknowledged his guilt in the killings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Justice Department rejected an offer for him to plead guilty in exchange for a sentence of life in prison but Friday marked the first time that jurors were able to hear Roof elaborate on the massacre and his motives.

“What I did is so minuscule to what they’re doing to white people, every day, all the time,” Roof told the agents in a conference room in Shelby, North Carolina, where he was arrested the morning after the killings.

During the lengthy interview, Roof, now 22, leaned forward in a rolling chair, chatting with the agents and sometimes laughing. He spoke in a matter-of-fact tone, often eagerly answering the agents’ questions and describing his planning for the attack.

White supremacy

But Roof, who said he became interested in white supremacy after the controversy that surrounded the death of Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager who was fatally shot by George Zimmerman in Florida in February 2012, appeared dumbfounded when an agent told him that nine people had died.

“There weren’t even nine people there,” said Roof, who had previously estimated that he had shot five people. As the video played Friday, Roof sat in his chair at the defence table, expressionless. He sometimes shuffled papers, but, as has been his custom in the courtroom, he avoided looking toward the jury.

Although Roof repeatedly declared that he had felt a need to kill black people, he chose Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church after doing internet research and said that he had considered an attack on a “black festival” there were also moments during the interview when he appeared somewhat regretful.

“I wouldn’t say I’m glad I did it,” he told the agents, “but I’ve done it.”

Roof, who was 21 at the time, told the agents he was astonished to find the church parking lot not swarming with police when he exited a side door at 9.06 pm local time on June 17th, 2015. He said he had saved one of eight magazines for his Glock semi-automatic handgun, loaded with hollow-point bullets bought at Wal-Mart, so he could kill himself if confronted by police.

‘I regret doing it a little bit’

Roof answered the agents’ questions eagerly in a matter-of-fact tone, his voice deeper than might be expected from his boyish appearance. He did not so much express remorse as depict his actions as necessary to retaliate for what he perceived as an epidemic of black-on-white crime. “I regret doing it a little bit,” he said, before the agents revealed to him the body count.

Once they did, and prompted him for his reaction, he said, “It makes me feel bad,” but there was little emotion in his voice.

The two-hour interview took place at a police station in Shelby, North Carolina, where

Roof had been arrested without incident the morning after the killings. He had been freed of his handcuffs and fortified with a Burger King hamburger provided by the Shelby officers.

Roof is charged with 33 federal counts, including hate crimes resulting in death. He also faces separate capital murder charges in a state trial scheduled for mid-January.

Agencies