“I didn’t have to do anything. But what I meant when I said that was I felt like I had to do that. And I still feel like I had to do it.”
Dylann Roof received the death penalty from a federal jury for murdering nine black people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, in June 2015. It took the jury less than three hours to reach their verdict. Judge Richard Gergel will impose the sentence of Roof at 9:30AM on Wednesday.
The jury recommended the death penalty on all 18 counts Roof faced that carried the sentence.
Roof opened fire on the members of the church after they welcomed him into their circle with open arms and allowed him to sit next to the pastor. He hoped his crime would spark a race war.
Roof represented himself during the sentencing phase. He took the podium after Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson delivered his two-hour closing statements. Roof told the jury “that he wasn’t lying when he told FBI agents that he doesn’t hate black people.” Instead, he said “that he doesn’t like what black people do.” He continued:
“I think it’s safe to say that someone in their right mind wouldn’t go into a church and kill people,” he said. “You might remember in my confession to the FBI, I told them I had to do it. Obviously, that isn’t true because I didn’t have to do it. I didn’t have to do anything. But what I meant when I said that was I felt like I had to do that. And I still feel like I had to do it.”
Loved ones of the nine people Roof killed crammed every seat in one side of the courtroom and listened with quiet but intense focus as he spoke. None of Roof’s family members attended.
Roof went on to say that he is misunderstood but he didn’t attempt to explain himself further, offering only that “the prosecution and anyone else who hates me are the ones who have been misled.” He said people hate for a reason. Sometimes that means they have been misled, other times not.
“Wouldn’t it be fair to say that the prosecution hates me since they are the ones trying to give me the death penalty?” he asked. “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.”
Roof said he had been told that he had the right to ask the jury for a life sentence “but I’m not sure what good that will do anyway.” He also reminded them that during jury selection each had pledged to stand up and object to a death sentence if they felt that was necessary. He stopped short of asking them to do that, though.
It only took five minutes for him to read his remarks.
Jury selection began in November, but Gergel paused the process to see if a psychiatrist would find Roof competent to stand trial. Once he received the doctor’s approval, the selection moved on, but drama continued.
Gergel granted Roof’s request to represent himself during the trial. But then Roof changed his mind and asked for his lawyers back during the guilt phase, but allow him to still represent himself during the sentencing phase. Gergel warned Roof he could not change his mind. That meant during the sentencing phase, Roof had “control over what evidence is presented on his behalf when the time comes for the defense to try to sway jurors to give him life in prison.”
He faced 33 charges:
Roof faces 33 federal charges: nine counts of violating the Hate Crime Act resulting in death; three counts of violating the Hate Crime Act involving an attempt to kill; nine counts of obstruction of exercise of religion resulting in death; three counts of obstruction of exercise of religion involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon; nine counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence.
Roof also faces nine counts of murder and other charges in the state court system.
He tried to plead guilty “in exchange for a life sentence, but prosecutors refused the deal.” He could receive the death penalty if found guilty.