A unanimous jury sentenced Dylann Roof to death for killing nine black churchgoers as they attended Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015.
The jury returned the verdict after less than three hours of deliberation. The 12-member panel agreed unanimously on each of the non-statutory aggravating factors, including a lack of remorse, that Roof’s crime was racially motivated and that he intentionally sought to cause harm to others.
Reporters in the courtroom described 22-year-old Roof, a self-avowed white supremacist, as staring “straight ahead” and “emotionless” as U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel told him his fate.
After the verdict, Roof reportedly stood to speak, and said, “I’d like to request court-appointed new lawyers.” Roof opted to represent himself in the sentencing portion of the trial and relegated his attorney David Bruck to standby counsel.
Gergel told Roof that he was “strongly disinclined” to heed his request but that he could discuss the matter further Wednesday morning during the sentencing conference. Gergel also indicated he had not heard enough evidence to suggest that his previous lawyers had provided ineffective counsel.
Gergel thanked the jury for its service, according to reporters from the Post and Courier. “You have been attentive, you have been patient, you have been careful.”
As VICE News reported earlier in the day, Roof delivered his closing remarks to the jury without any indication that he regretted what he had done. “I didn’t have to do anything,” Roof said. “[But] I felt like I had to do it, and I still feel like I had to do it.”
But he still seemed to ask the jury to consider sparing his life. Roof reminded the jury that under federal law, a death sentence must be handed down with a unanimous verdict. If just one juror had dissented, Roof would have received life in prison without the possibility of parole. “From what I’ve been told, I have a right to ask you to give me a life sentence,” Roof said. “But I’m not sure what good that would do anyway.”
Last month, the same jurors unanimously found Roof guilty of all 33 charges related to the massacre at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
During the course of the trial, prosecutors painted a picture of a cold, calculated young man who was consumed by racial hatred and who spent months plotting the church massacre, emphasizing how he sat in his car outside the church, loading eight magazines, for 28 minutes.
Roof entered the church where 12 people, including Rev. Clementa Pinckney, had gathered for Bible study. Pinckney invited Roof to sit beside him, survivors recalled, and handed him a Bible and a leaflet containing that week’s scripture lesson. It wasn’t until the congregants had their heads bowed in prayer that the first shots rang out.
Polly Sheppard, who survived the attack, tearfully recalled in the guilt portion of the trial last month how she ran for cover and saw bullet casings clatter to the floor around her. Sheppard says that Roof told her he would spare her life so that she could tell others what happened.
In closing statements, U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson reminded the jury that Roof had worn shoes adorned in racist symbols, like swastikas, to court.
Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced last May that she would, on behalf of the U.S. Justice Department, seek the federal death penalty for Roof, contrary to the wishes of many of his victims’ family members. “Sentencing him to death is not justice,” wrote Amnesty International USA in a statement. “It will not heal the deep racial wounds that continue to wreak violence in our nation.”
Roof had hoped to “start a race war,” his friend Joey Meek told media outlets after the massacre. On his website, “The Last Rhodesian,” Roof posted a 2000-word manifesto, where he railed against black Americans. “We have no skinheads, no real KKK, no one doing anything but talking on the internet,” Roof wrote. “Well someone has to have the bravery to take it to the real world, and I guess that has to be me.”
He didn’t start a race war, but he did prompt a national conversation about race and white supremacy, which led to widespread criticism of the persisting presence of Confederate monuments scattered across the South. That debate culminated in South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley’s decision to remove the Confederate flag altogether from the state legislature building.
Roof’s mental competency was evaluated twice during the trial. Both times, psychiatrists found him to be sufficiently sound to stand trial. Roof also rejected efforts by his standby counsel to frame his actions in terms of mental illness.
Formal sentencing will take place at 9.30 a.m. on Wednesday.