Unveiling for the first time a jailhouse journal kept by Charleston church killer Dylann Roof, prosecutors on Wednesday told jurors who will decide whether Roof lives or dies that his own words reveal he has no remorse.
“I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed,” the 22-year-old avowed white supremacist wrote. “I do feel sorry for the innocent white children forced to live in this sick country.”
Six weeks after Roof’s arrest in June 2015, jailers discovered Roof’s journal, prosecuting attorney Nathan Williams told jurors. Williams showed the court an excerpt from the journal, which said, “I would like to make it crystal clear. I do not regret what I did. I am not sorry. I do feel sorry for the innocent white people that are killed daily at the hands of the lower races.”
Those same jurors found Roof guilty on Dec. 15 of all 33 counts in the slayings of nine African-Americans during a Bible study at Charleston’s historic Emanuel AME Church.
Wednesday’s proceeding was the first day of the penalty phase. The jury will decide whether Roof should be executed or serve life in prison without possibility of parole.
Roof is representing himself in the penalty portion of his federal hate crimes trial. He told jurors Wednesday that there is nothing wrong with him psychologically.
During his 2-minute opening statement, Roof said he is representing himself to prevent his lawyers from offering mental illness evidence.
Standing at a lectern about 10 feet from the jury of nine whites and three African-Americans, Roof criticized his attorneys, saying they “forced” him to go through two mental competency hearings.
“Other than the fact that I am better at constantly embarrassing myself than anyone who has ever existed, there is nothing wrong with me, psychologically,” Roof said in a flat, hoarse voice that was almost a rasp.
Prosecutor: Roof deserves the ‘most significant’ penalty
Roof also told the jury he regretted that information concerning his mental competence will be made public after the trial.
“In that case, my self representation accomplishes nothing,” Roof, wearing a dark gray-green sweater and gray pants, said. “So you can say ‘What’s the point?’ And the point is that I’m not going to lie to you.”
David Bruck, Roof’s nationally-known defense lawyer who had repeatedly failed to introduce evidence concerning Roof’s alleged mental instability, sat at the defense table. Federal Judge Richard Gergel has designated Bruck and his legal team as “stand-by counsel,” meaning they can give Roof guidance, but they cannot make statements during trial.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams told jurors Roof deserved to die because of the number of people he killed, his racist motives, the planning he put into the slayings, the emotional toll on friends and relatives, and Roof’s utter lack of remorse.
“They justify the most significant penalty available to you,” Williams said of those factors. “He shot (87-year-old) Susie Jackson, the most vulnerable among them, the most number of times.”
Williams warned the jury that the testimony over the next few days could be even harder to hear than what was presented during the guilt phase.
Roof was ordered on Monday by Gergel not to approach the jury, the witness stand or the judge’s bench during the trial. Roof declined to question all four of witnesses that testified Wednesday for the prosecution.
If Wednesday’s pace is any indication, this penalty phase of Roof’s trial could take weeks.
Relatives, friends retell their grief
Jennifer Pinckney, the widow of slain Rev. Clementa Pinckney, was the first to testify. She was on the stand for more than two hours.
Pinckney spent the majority of her time discussing her relationship with her husband, and how much he meant to those around him.
She shared how much he loved her and their daughters, now12 and 7; how he would ask for a schedule at the beginning of each school year in hopes of attending every possible event with his kids.
“He would even surprise my mom with gifts from time to time. He was that great catch,” Pinckney said.
Clementa Pinckney’s best friend, Rev. Kylon Middleton, and Democratic Sen. Gerald Malloy, of Darlington, also testified. They described Pinckney has having a mix of charisma and humilty. He was destined for great things.
Pinckney, who had come from humble origins, was respected by other senators, but also took pains to know the legislative pages and befriend them, Malloy said. “He was that sweet spirit they wanted to emulate, one of those people you want your son to emulate.”
Court ended Wednesday on moving testimony from Rev. Anthony Thompson, whose wife, the Rev. Myra Thompson was killed that night. He told the jury how his wife was an exceptionally giving person, a wonderful mother, teacher, counselor and grandmother.
Thompson, who spent much of his testimony choking back tears, said that after learning from Felicia Sanders that, “Myra’s gone,” he took off running to the church. Somehow, he broke through security.
“I just didn’t know what to do,” Thompson testified in tears. “My world was just gone. I literally did not know what to do, because everything I did was for her. And now – she’s gone.”