Jurors fInd Dylann Roof guilty of All 33 Counts in Church Massacre
Dylann Roof, the white supremacist charged with fatally shooting nine black members of a Bible study class in South Carolina, stood stiffly in a federal courtroom Thursday as the jury forewoman repeated eight words, over and over again:
“We find the defendant, Dylann Storm Roof, guilty."
After about two hours of deliberation, the jury found Roof guilty of all 33 counts in the June 17, 2015, massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, including committing a hate crime against black victims, obstructing the exercise of religion and using a firearm to commit murder.
Roof, wearing a blue cable-knit sweater, stared blankly ahead as the verdicts were read, resting the tips of his forefingers on a wooden table and nervously twisting his mouth.
But the verdicts were not a surprise. Jurors had watched Roof confess in a taped FBI interview. They had heard from two survivors who identified him as the shooter. They had seen closed-circuit television footage of him exiting the scene of the massacre with the murder weapon in his hand.
After U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel thanked the jury of three blacks and nine whites, the family members of the victims, including survivors Felicia Sanders and Jennifer Pinckney, exited the court smiling.
Republican Gov. Nikki Haley issued a statement saying, "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 stage is now set for the punishment phase, scheduled to begin Jan. 3. In a rare move, Roof, a high school dropout, has chosen to defend himself in the sentencing phase, when the jurors will decide whether to impose life in prison or death. The move effectively relegates defense attorney David Bruck to a back seat for a critical part of the trial.
Roof’s case is the first in which the federal government has sought the death penalty under the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. If the jury decides to impose the death penalty, Roof will be the first person in U.S. history sentenced to death in a federal hate-crimes trial.
After presenting a mass of evidence, prosecutors wrapped up their case earlier Thursday, arguing the jury had a simple task to hold the “cold and calculated” 22-year-old accountable for “every round he fired.”
“A man of immense hatred walked that room shooting person after person after person,” Asst. U.S. Atty. Nathan Williams told the jury. “A man whose actions show him to be a person of tremendous cowardice, shooting them when they had their eyes closed, shooting them when they were in prayer.”
“There is no doubt in this case,” Williams said as he ran through charges that Roof committed hate crimes resulting in death. “He targeted those individuals because of their race.”
“They were praying. They were shot,” he said as he outlined charges that Roof had engaged in the obstruction of the exercise of religion. “This is easy.”
Bruck did not dispute the government’s evidence. Instead, he urged jurors to dig deeper and look “beyond the surface” in considering what motivated his client to commit the crime.
“Reaching a conclusion about what these crimes were, and who committed them, is pretty straightforward,” Bruck told the jury. “The issue in this case from the beginning has been, and it continues to be, why?”
Roof, the lawyer said, was “delusional,” “illogical,” and full of “mad energy.”
“There is something wrong with his perceptions,” Bruck said.
Repeatedly, Gergel reprimanded Bruck for bringing up Roof’s mental state.