Gunman sentenced to death for Charleston church massacre
Dylann Roof becomes first American to receive penalty for federal hate crimes
Dylann Roof has been sentenced to death for killing nine black church members, becoming the first American to get the death penalty for federal hate crimes. File photograph: Charleston County Sheriff’s Office/New York Times
People stop to observe a makeshift memorial in front of Mother Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, in recent days. Dylann Roof has been sentenced to death for killing nine black church members there. File photograph: Logan Cyrus/AFP/Getty Images
White supremacist Dylann Roof has been sentenced to death for killing nine black church members, becoming the first American to get the death penalty for federal hate crimes.
A jury in South Carolina deliberated his sentence for about three hours, capping a trial in which Roof (22) did not fight for his life or show any remorse. At the beginning of the trial, he addressed jurors directly, insisting that he was not mentally ill, but he never asked them for forgiveness or mercy, or explained the crime.
He threw away one last chance to plead for his life on Tuesday, telling jurors: “I still feel like I had to do it.”
Every juror looked directly at Roof as he spoke for about five minutes. A few nodded as he reminded them that they said during jury selection they could fairly weigh the factors of his case.
Only one of them, he noted, had to disagree to spare his life. “I have the right to ask you to give me a life sentence, but I’m not sure what good it would do anyway,” he said. When the verdict was read, he showed no emotion. He will be formally sentenced on Wednesday.
Instead, the killings had a unifying effect, as South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its statehouse for the first time in more than 50 years and other states followed suit, taking down Confederate banners and monuments.
Roof had posed with the flag in photos. The attacker specifically picked out Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the south’s oldest black church, to carry out the cold, calculated slaughter, assistant US attorney Jay Richardson said. The 12 people Roof targeted opened the door for a stranger with a smile, he said. Three people survived the attack.
The gunman sat with the Bible study group for about 45 minutes. During the final prayer – when everyone’s eyes were closed – he started firing.
The jury convicted him last month of all 33 federal charges he faced, including hate crimes.
Roof did not explain his actions to jurors, saying only that “anyone who hates anything in their mind has a good reason for it”. Nearly two dozen friends and relatives of the victims gave evidence during the sentencing phase of the trial.
Roof acted as his own lawyer and did not question any witnesses or put up any evidence. The last person sent to federal death row was Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in 2015.