A look back at the federal trial of Dylann Roof
CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Jurors on Tuesday sentenced Dylann Roof to death for the 2015 massacre at a historic black church in South Carolina that left nine Bible study participants dead.
Last month, the same jury took less than two hours to find Roof guilty of all 33 federal counts against him, including hate crimes and obstruction of religion. For four days, prosecutors presented their case as to why they feel the 22-year-old Roof should be executed for his crimes. Roof, representing himself, put up no defense.
Here’s what happened in his trial and what’s next.
LIFE OR DEATH
Prosecutors called a total of 25 witnesses to make their case as to why Roof should get the death penalty for the June 2015 slaughter at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. Relatives of all nine victims gave emotional testimony about the loss of their loved ones, recalling special memories and describing a painful future without each person in it.
As during the guilt phase of his trial, Roof put up no witnesses and also opted not to testify himself. During sentencing, Roof has represented himself, although his former defense team has remained seated with him, acting as his legal advisers.
The jury sentenced Roof to death after about three hours of deliberations.
Roof’s whole trial was put on hold for several weeks so U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel could hold a first competency hearing. During that proceeding, which was closed to the public over media objections, Gergel heard two days of testimony, after which he determined Roof was mentally competent to face trial.
After he was found guilty, a day before the scheduled start of the sentencing phase, Gergel held another hearing last week on Roof’s mental status. At that time, the judge said serious enough issues had been raised in filings made under seal that the judge needed to address them in court.
Gergel deemed Roof competent both to stand trial for sentencing and to represent himself, and jurors returned to court Jan. 4.
WHY DID HE REPRESENTHIMSELF?
Roof hasn’t ever said definitively why he wanted to act as his own lawyer, but he’s left some clues along the way.
As early as last summer, Roof’s legal team filed a notice with the court that they planned to introduce evidence that their client suffers from a mental illness. Many subsequent motions have been filed under seal, purportedly to conceal sensitive information, but it’s likely further details on what lawyers planned to present are contained within.
It’s clear, from his own writings, Roof doesn’t believe in psychology. In a journal read in court during his trial, Roof called the specialty “a Jewish invention” that “does nothing but invent diseases and tell people they have problems when they don’t.”
As the jury selection process began last year, Roof said he wanted to fire his legal team and represent himself, ultimately keeping his lawyers for the trial phase but ditching them when it came time for sentencing. During discussions in court about Roof’s representation, his lawyers have said they feared their client wouldn’t introduce evidence that could potentially spare his life out of concern it might embarrass himself or his family.
Roof, who asked a judge at a hearing last month if he could file a motion limiting what prosecutors can introduce, also has been adamant a transcript of his competency hearing could not be released to the public.
“I know this is not a legal argument, but the unsealing of the competency hearing defeats the purpose of me representing myself,” Roof said.
Prosecutors say Roof wanted to start a race war. His two-hour confession to the FBI seemed key to jurors’ deliberation in the guilt phase. One hour in, they asked to rehear the videotaped confession.
Roof also documented his hate in his journal, found in his car when he was arrested, as well as in a journal found in his jail cell.
“I would like to make it crystal clear,” Roof wrote. “I do not regret what I did. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.”
Some relatives of the nine shooting victims attracted copious amounts of attention for showing Roof mercy during his initial court appearance after his arrest, saying they’d pray for him. In the run-up to the federal death penalty trial, other victims’ family members have said they favored the death penalty for Roof, sentiments echoed by some in media interviews after the guilty verdict.
Twenty-three relatives of the slain testified during Roof’s sentencing trial but restricted their comments to descriptions of their loved ones and the loss they felt after their deaths.
ANOTHER TRIAL THIS YEAR
Roof faces a second death-penalty trial early this year in state court, where he’s charged with nine counts of murder. A state judge had ordered 600 prospective jurors to report to the Charleston County Courthouse on Jan. 17 for initial screening, with the trial to begin on or after Jan. 30.
But last week, that same state judge indefinitely suspended the state trial, a decision he attributed to the ongoing nature of the federal trial. For now, Roof has attorneys representing him in the state case.