Dylann Roof -- baptized into the world of hate through the Internet -- was sentenced on Tuesday to be executed for his murderous gun rampage that killed nine people in 2015 at a historic African-American church in Charleston.
The unanimous death penalty verdict from a jury composed of nine white and three black jurors came after four days of tearful testimony from survivors and relatives of those Roof killed.
The panel deliberated for less than three hours before deciding that the 22-year-old white supremacist, who was a first-time visitor to a Bible study group, should die for his crimes rather than spend his life in prison without the possibility of parole, the Charleston Post and Courier reported. Roof sat emotionless as the death penalty verdict was read, but later asked the judge for a new trial.
In his closing remarks to the jury, Roof, acting as his own attorney, said, “Nobody in their mind wants to go into a church and kill people." But he quickly acknowledged that in his post-arrest confession to FBI agents he told them “I had to” commit the killings.
“But it's not true,” Roof told the jury. “I didn't have to. No one made me. What I meant was: I felt like I had to do it. I still feel like I have to do it.”
Roof told the jury he could ask for a sentence of life in prison without parole, “but I'm not sure what good that will do anyway.”
Roof acted as his own attorney and did not cross-examine any witness or put on any discernable defense during the penalty phase, which began Jan. 3.
He made a brief opening argument to the jury, saying that he is not mentally ill, and, unlike his attorneys suggested during trial, arguing that his attorneys’ suggestion he is should not be a mitigating factor in sentencing.
The trial ended on Dec. 15 with the same jury finding him guilty of 33 charges, including federal hate crimes, for killing nine black worshippers at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015. The horrific rampage, Roof hoped, would start a race war.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson told the jury in closing arguments on Tuesday that Roof’s hate-fueled massacre met all the requirements for the death penalty. The attack involved substantial planning, and multiple, vulnerable victims were killed, the prosecutors said, the Charleston Post and Courier reported.
“The horrific aspects of this case justify the death penalty,” Richardson said. “It outweighs anything else you might consider on the other side.”
During the penalty phase, FBI agent Special Agent Joseph Hamski testified about jailhouse journal entries that Roof wrote just six weeks after the shooting and his arrest just hours later. Confiscated on Aug. 3, 2015, his jailhouse journal was introduced in an attempt to show there was “substantial planning and premeditation” – an aggravating factor -- to Roof’s murderous rampage.
The agent showed jurors pictures recovered from Roof’s phone, including images of him holding his birthday-present .45 caliber Glock handgun used in the killings and bullets configured in the shape of a swastika.
In the journal, Roof drew white supremacist symbols, ranted about his racist ideologies and underscored why he hoped killing black people would start a race war. Roof also wrote about his perceived need for a “united white front” involving skinheads, Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Nazis and other white supremacists fighting to preserve the white race.
“I would like to make it crystal clear I do not regret what I did,” Roof wrote, adding, “I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.”
“I did what I thought would make the biggest wave, and now the fate of our race is in the hands of my brothers who continue to live freely,” Roof wrote in his journal.
He also “railed against Jews, Hispanics, African-Americans, gays and Muslims,” the New York Times reported. Roof said Adolf Hitler should be viewed as a “saint” and warned that white people “have no future” unless they “take violent action.”
The FBI agent also told the jury about evidence found on Roof’s home computer, showing postings he made on Stormfront, one of the Internet’s most infamous corners of white supremacy and hate second only to Andrew Anglin’s Daily Stormer.
Roof created a Stormfront account, calling himself “LilAryan,” the agent testified. In an initial posting on the racist site in February 2015, Roof praised a 1993 HBO documentary about neo-Nazi skinheads, later bragging that he had seen every documentary about skinheads.
“I consider myself very well-versed in racism,” Roof wrote at one point.
The FBI agent testified that Roof also used Stormfront to send seven private messages, including some to Stormfront members in the Columbia, S.C., area, seeking to meet those fellow racists, offering his age, race and e-mail address.
It was not immediately clear from the agent’s testimony whether any of those proposed meetings ever occurred, the Charleston newspaper reported.