Dylann Roof, the avowed white supremacist who massacred nine black churchgoers at Bible study in 2015, was sentenced to death on Tuesday.
The jury deliberated for nearly three hours before announcing the decision. Roof is the first person to face execution for federal hate crime convictions.
Roof was convicted of the Charleston, South Carolina, killings last month, following six days of testimony. He was found guilty of 33 federal charges, from hate crimes to obstruction of the practice of religion, of which 17 carried the possibility of the death penalty.
On June 17, 2015, Roof walked into Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The historic black church, affectionately called Mother Emanuel, was hosting a Bible study that evening. The 21-year-old sat down with the parishioners for a while before pulling out a gun and firing.
He killed Susie Jackson, the Rev. Daniel Simmons, Ethel Lance, Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Myra Thompson and the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the church.
Prosecutors argued in favor of the death penalty.
“They welcomed a 13th person that night ... with a kind word, a Bible, a handout and a chair,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson said during his closing argument at Roof’s sentencing on Tuesday. “He had come with a hateful heart and a Glock .45.”
Roof chose to represent himself during the punishment phase of his trial. He called no witnesses.
In his opening remarks to the court last week, Roof said there was nothing wrong with him “psychologically.” He had previously written in a journal that psychology was a “Jewish invention.”
“My opening statement is going to seem a little bit out of place,” Roof told jurors. “I am not going to lie to you. ... Other than the fact that I trust people that I shouldn’t and the fact that I’m probably better at constantly embarrassing myself than anyone who’s ever existed, there’s nothing wrong with me psychologically.”
Last year, following his arrest, Roof had spoken with FBI agents for two hours. Video played in court showed him admitting to his crimes.
“I am guilty,” he said. “We all know I’m guilty.”
He told agents he had killed nine innocent people because he believed that white Americans had become second-class citizens and that white women were being raped “daily” by black men.
In his closing argument on Tuesday, Roof stood by his decision to gun down the innocent churchgoers.
“I felt like I had to do it, and I still feel like I had to do it,” he told jurors.
He added that he could ask the jury to spare his life, but wasn’t sure “what good that would do.”
Roof’s family expressed condolences for those who were killed.
“We will always love Dylann,” the statement reads in part. “We will struggle as long as we live to understand why he committed this horrible attack, which caused so much pain to so many good people. We wish to express the grief we feel for the victims of his crimes, and our sympathy to the many families he has hurt.”
At a Bible study on the one-year anniversary of the killings, church member Thomas Rose prayed for those who had died. The 66-year-old was born inside Mother Emanuel and had left the church that night only about an hour before Roof began his slaughter.
“I still haven’t recovered,” Rose told The Huffington Post. “It’s just gonna take a while. I forgive the guy for doing what he did, but he took away [my family members]. That’s something I’ll never get over.”
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