An unrepentant Dylann Roof was on Tuesday sentenced to death for fatally shooting nine black churchgoers during a Bible study session, becoming the first person ordered executed for a federal hate crime.
A jury deliberated for about three hours before returning with the decision, capping a trial in which the 22-year-old self-avowed white supremacist did not fight for his life or show any remorse. He served as his own attorney during sentencing and never asked for forgiveness or mercy, or explained the massacre.
Hours earlier, Roof threw away one last chance to plead for his life, telling jurors: “I still feel like I had to do it.”
Every juror looked directly at Roof as he spoke for about five minutes. A few nodded as he reminded them that they said during jury selection they could fairly weigh the factors of his case. He noted that only one of them had to disagree to spare his life.
“I have the right to ask you to give me a life sentence, but I’m not sure what good it would do anyway,” he said.
When the verdict was read, he stood stoic. Several family members of victims wiped away quiet tears.
Roof told FBI agents when they arrested him after the June 17, 2015, slayings that he wanted the shootings to bring back segregation or perhaps start a race war.
Instead, the killings had a unifying effect, as South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from its statehouse for the first time in more than 50 years. Other states followed suit, taking down Confederate banners and monuments.
Roof had posed with the flag in photographs.
Malcolm Graham, whose sister Cynthia Hurd was slain, said the jury made the right decision.
“There is no room in America’s smallest jail cell for hatred, racism and discrimination,” he said from his home in Charlotte, North Carolina. “The journey for me and my family today has come to an end.”
Roof specifically picked out Emanuel AME Church, the South’s oldest black church, to carry out the cold, calculated slaughter, US Assistant Attorney Jay Richardson said.
The 12 people he targeted opened the door for a stranger with a smile, he said.
Three people survived the attack.
“They welcomed a 13th person that night ... with a kind word, a Bible, a handout and a chair,” Richardson said during his closing argument. “He had come with a hateful heart and a Glock .45.”