CHARLESTON, S.C. (UPI) — Self-proclaimed white supremacist Dylann Roof was convicted of federal hate crimes Thursday, after quick deliberation by jurors in the case of last year’s Charleston church shooting rampage.
Roof was found guilty on all 33 federal counts, including hate crimes, firearms violations and obstruction of religion. Jurors deliberated for less than two hours before reaching a unanimous decision.
Roof stood expressionless as the jury foreman read the verdict, the Post and Courier reported, much as he has been throughout the entire legal proceedings. He will return to court in 19 days to learn whether he will be put to death or spend the rest of his life in prison.
The courtroom was packed with nearly 50 survivors of the shooting and relatives of the victims who gathered, some holding hands, to listen to the culmination of the federal case. Some left the court smiling. Roof’s grandparents, who were also there, were visibly distressed.
“The guilt phase in the case is now complete,” judge Richard Gergel said before adjourning the court, and wishing the jurors happy holidays.
“It is my hope that the survivors, the families & the people of South Carolina can find some peace in the fact that justice has been served,” South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said in a statement after the verdict.
“Today’s verdict won’t bring back those lost, but it ensures the families of those lost will see justice come to this evil man,” Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said in his response.
“Although a racist madman tried to destroy us … what he showed us was what we must do now,” he added. “Believe in love. Trust in each other. And be resolute in our determination to move forward together.”
Jurors received the case Thursday after prosecutors and Roof’s defense wrapped up closing arguments in the federal prosecution.
Roof admitted to the killings immediately after his arrest in June 2015, but pleaded not guilty to federal hate crimes charges. He reportedly offered to plead guilty to the crimes in exchange for the removal of the death penalty, but prosecutors refused.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams told jurors Thursday that the defendant showed “tremendous cowardice” and “overwhelming” hatred with his violent actions. Roof’s defense never attempted to argue for innocence, instead trying to portray the shooter as an aloof, impressionable, gun-obsessed young man who soaked up hateful ideologies online.
Nine people were killed on June 17, 2015, after Roof entered the Emanuel AME Church and sat in a Bible study for at least 30 minutes before rising to his feet and opening fire. Surveillance video at the church captured his entrance and exit but none of the shooting.
The dead were pastor and state senator Clementa Pinckney, 41; Cynthia Marie Graham Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lee Lance, 70; Depayne Middleton-Doctor, 49; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Daniel Simmons, 74; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; and Myra Thompson, 59.
“He sat there with them, and he waited until they were at their most vulnerable,” Williams said Thursday. “In those actions we see exactly who this defendant is … a man whose actions show him to be a man of tremendous cowardice, shooting them when their eyes were closed [to pray], shooting them when they were on the ground.
“For every person he killed, he must be held accountable.”
Victims’ relatives and at least one juror wiped tears from their eyes Thursday during the prosecution’s detailed retelling of the brazen attack — which was accompanied by sobering side-by-side photographs of each victim, one showing them in life and one of them lying on the ground at the crime scene.
During trial, multiple authorities testified that Roof had cased the church for months before the actual shooting and had a list of several other Charleston churches, potential targets, in his vehicle at the time of his arrest. Prosecutors called Roof’s actions “cold and calculating.”
Prosecutors argued that Roof launched the attack with the goal of sparking a race war in the United States, apparently frustrated with what he viewed as an excess of violence perpetrated by black Americans against whites.
“[He believes] the color of a person’s skin makes them less than human,” Williams said in his closing argument.
During the six-day trial, the jury — comprised of nine white and three black members — watched a two-hour interrogation of Roof by FBI agents, during which he admitted to being the shooter and, at times, appeared to laugh at the act.
Roof’s defense attorney, David Bruck, attempted to simplify the case in his summation — and paint the 22-year-old as a troubled young loner who had a misguided view of society and had “nowhere to go” — a defense position that leaned slightly toward an insanity defense, although psychological experts declared him mentally competent for trial.
Bruck attributed much of Roof’s behaviors to things he had seen and learned on the Internet, and argued that his perception of reality had been severely warped. He also argued that Roof did not premeditate the murders, explaining the trips to Charleston in the months before the attack as more ritualistic than nefarious.
The bullets in Roof’s gun, he argued, were primarily intended for himself.
In conclusion, he asked jurors to evaluate the illogical senselessness of the shootings and consider the idea that there may be more to the story.
Roof will be sentenced Jan. 3, two weeks before his state murder trial is scheduled to start. Having already represented himself for some of the trial, the killer will again act as his own counsel during the sentencing phase — although the judge gave him until the day of his sentencing to change his mind.
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