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Resting his case

Dylann Roof's closing argument: "I do not wish to testify"

Dylann Roof’s closing argument: “I do not wish to testify”

Dylann Roof had one last chance to persuade the jurors in his murder trial that he should be allowed to live rather than die. He didn’t take it. “I do not wish to testify,” he told the judge, and rested his case Monday without saying a word in his defense.  

The government rested its case Monday at noon after three and a half days of emotionally charged testimony from victims’ family members and survivors of Roof’s June 2015 massacre of nine worshippers at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina.

As the prosecutors wrapped up, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel asked the 22-year-old Roof, who chose to act as his own lawyer, whether he would like to be heard. Roof consulted attorney David Bruck, whom he had relegated to the position of standby counsel for the duration of the penalty trial, and requested a 30-minute recess.

When they came back from recess, Roof, 22, first asked to file a motion regarding aggravating factors in the case, which can shore up justification for the death penalty, such as whether a victim was elderly. It wasn’t clear what the aggravating factors were, but reporters at the scene described him as persistent in the matter. Gergel denied his request, saying it would be discussed later at the charging conference.

Roof ultimately declined to testify. If he had testified, he would have left himself open to the possibility of cross-examination by the prosecution. Roof also declined to call any witnesses or present a case to the jury.

The charge conference (the meeting between a judge and both sides’ lawyers after they have rested their cases) was scheduled for 2 p.m. when the court resumed. Closing arguments likely to take place thereafter before the jury will be dismissed to decide whether he should receive the federal death penalty.

Roof’s conduct during the trial didn’t stray too far from what he had promised in a Dec. 16 letter to Gergel, where he wrote that he would not make a mental health argument, nor would he present additional evidence or call witnesses to testify on his behalf.

Roof rejected Bruck’s efforts during the guilt portion of the trial to frame his crimes in terms of mental illness and urged the jury to “forget” anything his lawyer said about him. “There’s nothing wrong with me psychologically,” Roof told the jury during his opening statements last week.

Bruck had characterized Roof as a lonely, disturbed young man who found solace in hateful writings on the internet. By contrast, prosecutors painted him as a cold-blooded, calculated killer, who was driven by racial hatred.

The same jury who will soon be left to weigh Roof’s fate last month found him guilty of all 33 charges linked to the massacre in the basement of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston.

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