A federal jury on Tuesday handed down a death sentence for Emanuel AME Church shooter Dylann Roof, reaching a unanimous decision after three hours of deliberations.
The same jury found Roof guilty last month on 33 federal charges related to the murder of nine black parishioners at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
Roof, acting as his own attorney, did little to dissuade the jury from reaching anything other than a death sentence. He did not call any witnesses or testify on his own behalf during either the guilt or sentencing phase of his trial. In brief closing remarks to jurors Tuesday, Roof argued he does not actually “hate” black people, but does not like what they “do.” Similarly, the white supremacist felt he “had to” act against black South Carolinians.
“I felt like I had to do it and I still feel like I had to do it,” Roof told the jury.
He later insisted, “Wouldn’t it be fair to say that the prosecution hates me since they are the ones trying to give me the death penalty?” You could say, ‘Of course they hate you. Everyone hates you. They have good reason to hate you.’ I’m not denying that. My point is that anyone who hates anything, in their mind, has a good reason.”
Federal prosecutors said Roof’s actions were severe enough to warrant the death penalty and that he has not shown any remorse in the 18 months since the attack. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson noted Roof’s own statements as evidence the 22-year-old is not repentant.
“He wants you to believe he is justified in committing a modern-day lynching,” Richardson told the jury. “Don’t let that be.”
Richardson added that Roof had intended to start a race war through his actions, justifying capital punishment. “His plan was to agitate, incite, and create a white future,” the prosecutor told the jury. “Murdering nine as a result.”
Roof never claimed he was innocent or disputed any physical evidence presented against him. Tuesday appeared to be the first time he even asked for mercy, telling jurors, “I have a right to ask you to give me a life sentence. But I’m not sure what good that would do anyway.”
If jurors had not returned a unanimous verdict for Roof’s punishment, District Judge Richard Gergel would have automatically sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Jurors at one point asked Judge Gergel about some of the mitigating factors that would determine their decision, particularly if Roof’s prison stay could present a “risk” because he could potentially incite other inmates. Gergel responded it would be inappropriate for him to speculate on that and responded those factors were part of the jurors’ decision.
During the sentencing trial phase, prosecutors offered four days of testimony from surviving family and friends of the nine victims. More of the time was spent on talking about the personalities and lives of each victim rather than arguing about Roof’s personality or character.