CHARLESTON, S.C. — A federal district court jury decided Tuesday to sentence Dylann Roof to death for his June 2015 attack on a black church's Bible study group that left nine people dead.
The jurors took very little time to make their decision after closing arguments earlier in the day. Roof, now 22, looked down and shuffled papers as U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel read the death sentence.
The 10 women and two men found that all aggravating factors that Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson had outlined earlier that day applied and rejected some mitigating factors, such as Roof's age or lack of previous felony convictions.
Roof asked about filing a motion for new trial. The judge said he will formally sentence the self-described white supremacist Wednesday though he is bound by jury's verdict.
If the U.S. District Court jury had not decided on the death penalty, Roof still would have faced death-penalty trial in South Carolina's 9th Judicial Circuit Court. Whether he will still face a second trial is now unclear.
Judge J.C. Nicholson on Thursday ordered that trial to be put on hold indefinitely. It was to have begun Jan. 17.
On Tuesday, a federal prosecutor painted a portrait of good and evil as closing statements began in the sentencing phase in the trial. Roof had been found guilty last month of 33 federal counts in his June 17, 2015, attack on Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church here, many of them based on hate crimes.
Richardson began the government's closing statements by taking jurors through testimony showing Roof's "cold and calculated" actions that led to a "race-based massacre."
After describing a peaceful gathering of the victims at Emanuel for the Bible study, he talked about the horrific shootings, what Richardson said were methodical executions.
He then reviewed the lives of each of the nine victims, telling jurors that previous testimony gave a window into the goodness in each.
Richardson called Roof "an extraordinary racist." The shootings, he said, were "calculated, misguided but thoughtful."
"He spent years acquiring this deep hatred," the prosecutor said.
He said Roof targeted the church and the Bible study because it would have the most impact in making a racist statement.
"He chose to target them knowing they would be particularly good people," he said of the victims.
Roof, as he has through much of the trial, stared straight ahead, stone faced, occasionally jotting something down. Roof was unrepentant because the massacre "was worth it to him" to incite racial unrest, Richardson said.
"It does not take a detective to figure out why he did this," Richardson said. Roof repeatedly shot each victim because "to him they were brute animals," part of his racist ideology that looked at African-Americans as sub-human.
Targeting the victims in a church was the ultimate wrong, Richardson told the jury.
"What is wrong here is exactly why this case justifies the death penalty," he said, saying Roof's racism, his planning of the murders, targeting the church, attempting to incite others, killing of vulnerable victims, the lack of remorse and multiple killings were among the aggravating factors that demanded capital punishment
Roof, in a successful effort that blocked his defense team from submitting evidence that he might suffer from a mental illness, has represented himself in the sentencing phase. The high school dropout rested his case Monday, offering neither witnesses nor evidence in his defense.
He asked no questions of witnesses though in a hearing outside the present of the jury he had indicated that he hoped jurors would choose a life sentence.
Prosecutors presented their sentencing case in about 3½ days and questioned 25 witnesses, most of them family members of victims who suffered multiple gunshots in a rampage that came after Roof sat with the parishioners in their Bible study for about 40 minutes.
He had appeared unannounced and the church’s leader, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, had welcomed him. Pinckney also served as a South Carolina state senator.
Roof shot Pinckney with a Glock .45 as the worshipers bowed their heads in prayer.. As others tried to hide beneath folding tables, he moved around the room, firing more than 70 bullets, most finding a human target.
Three of his victims were age 70 or older. Roof has continued to show no remorse for the crime, and prosecutors showed stark evidence of that in his jailhouse writings found six weeks after the attack.
“I would like to make it crystal clear: I do not regret what I did. I am not sorry,” Roof wrote in his jailhouse journal.
“I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed,” his writings continued. “I do feel sorry for the innocent white children forced to live in this sick country, and I do feel sorry for the innocent white people that are killed daily at the hands of the lower races. I have shed a tear of self pity for myself. I feel pity that I had to do what I did in the first place. I feel pity that I had to give up my life because of a situation that should never have existed.”