Caravan carrying Dylann Roof exits the Charleston Federal Courthouse
The federal jury of 10 women and two men who found Dylann Roof guilty of federal hate crimes Thursday in the killings of nine African-Americans at a historic Charleston church now must wait more than two weeks for the trial’s next phase.
Jurors on Jan. 3 will begin to hear evidence about whether to give the death penalty or life without parole to the 22-year-old self-avowed white supremacist from Columbia.
Jurors took two hours Thursday to find him guilty. Evidence in the case had been overwhelming, including a video confession.
Federal Judge Richard Gergel told jurors that during the holiday recess, they may not look at any news accounts of one of the most sensational S.C. trials in decades. Nor can they discuss the case with anyone – including other jurors.
The killings shook South Carolina and the nation because they happened in a church, because Roof’s white supremacist motivations were so blatant and because survivors were so quick to express forgiveness.
“These nine people exemplified a goodness that was greater than this message of hate,” prosecutor Nathan Williams told jurors earlier in closing arguments, urging them to find Roof guilty.
After the verdict, Gergel put Roof under oath and asked him one more time if he wants to represent himself in the death penalty phase. Roof said “yes.” His legal team of top defense lawyers will be classified as “stand-by” and be able only to offer him advice.
Gergel warned Roof, a ninth-grade dropout with a GED, that he should not try to handle such a task. But Roof was firm. Gergel told him he had until Jan. 3 to change his mind.
If Roof does represent himself, the jury might never get to hear testimony in line with defense attorney David Bruck’s attempts to let the jury see Roof as confused or delusional rather than rational. That kind of evidence would come from psychiatrists and others, but Roof might not call those kinds of witnesses.
Bruck did get to say to the jury that Roof absorbed racist readings on the internet but that no normal person would be moved to violence by such readings.
“You have a 20-21 year-old-boy boy who has given his life over to the belief that there is a fight raging between white people and black people, that there is some vast conspiracy that is being covered up (to hide that fight) ... and only he can do something about it,” Bruck told the jury.
Prosecutors, meanwhile, told jurors Roof’s hatred is “vast.”
“After he killed (the Rev.) Clementa Pinckney, he did not stop. He embraced that hatred, and he executed eight more people,” Williams said.
“When you see those lists of churches, that tells you the depth, the vastness of his hatred,” he said of Roof’s list of potential targets, some in Columbia.
Jurors began deliberating shortly after 1 p.m. and asked at about 3 p.m. to rehear a portion of Roof’s taped FBI confession, from when the FBI asked if he remembered how many people were killed. They came back minutes later with guilty verdicts on all 33 counts.
Gov. Nikki Haley reacted quickly. “It is my hope that the survivors, the families, and the people of South Carolina can find some peace in the fact that justice has been served,” she said in a statement.
During his closing arguments earlier Thursday, Bruck said Roof acted alone, without encouragement from a best friend or family members. Roof’s motivation came from things he saw on the internet. And that he originally planned to kill himself after killing others showed he thought he was in a war that required those sacrifices, Bruck said.
Don’t give Roof too much credit, Bruck told jurors. “Everything he is doing is just an imitation from something he has learned from somewhere else.”
Bruck said “Roof never gave an explanation for his actions except ‘he had to do it.’ But never gave an answer to ‘why.’ ”
Another prosecutor, Stephen Curran, rebutted Bruck’s arguments, saying Roof explained many times why he did it: He hated. And Roof was not delusional, Curran said, as proved by his two-hour-long confession.
“Don’t be distracted by the defense ... suggesting that there’s some deeper meaning. He told you why,” Curran said.
As he had throughout the trial, Roof sat motionless during closing arguments and as Gergel gave instructions to the jury on the charges.
He said in his confession that while the internet made him see that white people were victims, a black person had never done anything to him or his family personally.
As the 12 jurors were separated from the six alternates, the public got to see for the first time who the 12 were. All 18 had been sitting together in the jury box, and the alternates were never identified.
The jury that will meet again on Jan. 3 is comprised of eight white women, two black women, one black male and one white male. The alternates did not deliberate with the jury.