For the first time since testimony started in the death penalty trial of Dylann Roof, jurors heard his voice.
Prosecutors presented Roof’s more than two-hours long videotaped confession to the court, which took up most of Friday, the third day of testimony from prosecution witnesses in the federal case.
Roof, then 21, appears calm and relaxed on the taped confession, which was made hours after he was caught on June 18, 2015, and taken to the Shelby, N.C., police department.
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At times, Roof laughed through his responses to FBI agents Michael Stansbury and Craig Januchowski, who were treating the white-on-black slayings as a hate crime from the outset.
“I went to that church in Charleston, and, uh ... I did it,” said Roof in the video when asked “Can you tell us about what happened last night?”
“I am guilty,” said Roof with a laugh when asked.
Roof, who’s from Columbia, declined to have a lawyer present. Stansbury said Roof was calm when Stansbury got there.
“He showed no real emotion ... kind of how he’s sitting right now,” Stansbury said.
Asked by federal prosecutor Stephen Curran to describe Roof’s demeanor during the interview, Stansbury told the jury, “It was like other killers I have interviewed. … It was like he did what he did and wanted to explain it.”
At first, Roof could not tell the agents how many people he killed the night before at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church. He guessed four or five.
But he recalled going through seven gun magazines, which held 11 cartridges each. Roof also mimicked the sound of gunfire, as he explained to investigators how he fired his weapon.
He told investigators that while he sat at Bible study, he wondered if he should leave. But then, spur of the moment, “I just finally decided I had to do it.”
“Well, I had to do it because somebody had to do something, because black people are killing white people every day in the streets,” said Roof on the video. “The fact of the matter is that what I did is minuscule (compared) to what they’re doing to white people all of the time.”
Asked where he got his information about black people, Roof said he distrusted regular news media and got his news from internet sites. David Lane’s internet writings were particularly helpful, Roof said. Lane, who died in prison in 2007, is a documented notorious white supremacist.
Roof re-enacted to investigators how he started shooting; he started from a seated position when he fired the first round. Roof said he then began pacing around the church as he fired because he was “freaking out” a little bit. And he laughed when he admitted telling a survivor – Polly Sheppard – that he’d let her live to tell the story.
There was no particular reason why Roof picked Emanuel AME Church other than he really liked the city of Charleston and knew the church was historic, he said. And he knew there would be no white people there and he would be able to find a small group of African-Americans.
Investigators pressured Roof throughout their questioning, asking him to say what made him decide he had to kill African-Americans and when he made the decision to carry out the attack.
Though he could not say a specific date, he said it was the controversy surrounding the Trayvon Martin case – when a 17-year-old black teen was shot and killed by a white neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida in 2012 – that made him look into black-on-white crime. Roof said he became “racially aware” after conducting that research online.
“It’s being racially aware ... view everything that happens through a racial lens,” Roof said. “Because that’s how black people view it. From the minute black people are born, they view everything through a racial lens. ...They’re always thinking like that.”
Roof told investigators a black person had never done anything to him or his family. But he said they were doing it to other people, which is why he said he felt he had to take action.
He said he didn’t expect fellow whites to follow in his footsteps by shooting people of color like he did. But he did expect his actions to agitate and increase racial tensions.
“I told him, ‘You failed’,” Stansbury said in court. “I told him that the people from Charleston came together.”
The video confession also revealed Roof didn’t expect to survive for long after walking out of the church.
He told investigators he kept enough bullets to commit suicide, if police officers were waiting for him outside of the church. Roof was seen on newly released video surveillance captured by the church’s cameras carefully scanning the parking lot before jumping into his black Hyundai Elantra and heading for North Carolina.
Roof said he knew he didn’t want to go back home to Columbia. So he headed for Charlotte, then thought strongly about Nashville.
It was revealed in court that two handwritten letters were found in Roof’s car that were addressed to each of his parents. The first discussed in court was to his mom.
“Dear mom, I love you,” Roof wrote. “I’m sorry for what I did, but I had to do it. ... as childish as it sounds, I wish I was in your arms.”
Roof’s mother collapsed on Wednesday in the courtroom, shortly after lawyers’ opening remarks. Court officials revealed later that she’d had a heart attack. Her condition has not been made public.
The second letter was to his father.
“I love you and I’m sorry,” Roof wrote. “You were a good dad. I love you.”
He told investigators he didn’t really have a message for anyone, though his journal and manifesto said he’d love for there to be a race war. It also said whites should not wait much longer to take “action.”
And when Stansbury asked Roof if he had anything to say to the families of those he killed, Roof said he had nothing.