Dylann Roof convicted on all 33 charges in Charleston church massacre
Self-avowed white supremacist Dylann Storm Roof was found guilty Thursday on all 33 federal charges related to the June 2015 massacre at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, that left nine black parishioners dead.
The federal charges consisted of 12 hate crime charges, 12 counts of religious obstruction, and nine counts of using a firearm to kill. Federal prosecutors are pursuing the death penalty for 18 of those charges.
Roof, 22, stood with “hands at his sides and his face emotionless,” as District Judge Richard Gergel read “guilty” 33 times, Alan Binder reported for the New York Times.
Proceedings began on Dec. 7, after a psychiatric evaluation found Roof competent to stand trial. The jury — representative of Charleston’s racial makeup with three black jurors — deliberated for a little over two hours before returning a verdict. Halfway through, however, they asked to rewatch Roof’s confession tape.
“I went to that church in Charleston, and I did it,” Roof said on camera. “Did what?”’ an interrogator asked. “I killed, I guess … I don’t know how many people.”
On the evening of June 17, 2015, Roof walked into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where 12 people, including Rev. Clementa Pinckney, had gathered for Bible study. Pinckney reportedly handed Roof a Bible and a leaflet containing that week’s Scripture lesson and invited him to sit beside him.
One hour later, when the congregants had their eyes shut and their heads bowed in closing prayers, Roof took out his .45-caliber Glock and began shooting.
During closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams rehashed disturbing details of what happened before, during, and after the shooting, painting a picture of a cold-blooded young man consumed by hatred for African Americans and who dedicated hours to plotting his massacre.
“That hatred is real,” Williams told the jury.
For his part, Roof’s attorney David Bruck characterized the defendant as a “suicidal loner,” radicalized and motivated by “things he saw on the internet,” according to the Post and Courier. “There is something wrong with his perception,” Bruck said. “There is something wrong with what he is perceiving about reality.”
On the second day of the trial, Roof’s mother, Amelia Cowles, collapsed, said “sorry” several times, and suffered a heart attack, not long after prosecutors described what they characterized as the cold-blooded premeditation with which her son murdered nine people. Roof’s attorney Bruck tried to argue that both Cowles’ collapse and some of the testimony warranted a mistrial, but the judge denied his request.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors emphasized Roof’s apparent premeditation — that he sat in his car outside the church, loading eight magazines, for 28 minutes, which they said illustrated the “vastness of his hatred.” In an attempt to demonstrate that Roof’s racial hatred ran deep, prosecutors also introduced a range of evidence — from “boxes of bullets to a homemade [Ku Klux] Klan hood and a stuffed bunny toy wrapped in little Confederate flags,” the Post and Courier reported.
On Tuesday, FBI Special Agent Joseph Hamski testified that Roof had begun staking out possible locations for the massacre in December, six months after he downloaded a history book about the Ku Klux Klan, according to the Post and Courier.
Polly Sheppard, who survived the attack, was called to the stand Wednesday and tearfully recalled running for cover and watching bullet casings fall to the floor. All in all, Roof shot 77 hollow-point bullets. Sheppard recalled to the jury that Roof said he wouldn’t kill her, so that she could tell the story of what happened.
The jury in the sentencing trial, scheduled to begin Jan. 3, will determine whether Roof should face death. Roof has chosen to represent himself during that phase of the trial, and Bruck will assume an advisory role.