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Prosecutors urge jury to sentence Dylann Roof to death

January 4, 2017 GMT

Six weeks after his arrest in the Emanuel AME Church massacre, Dylann Roof penned a jailhouse journal in which he stated that he had not shed a single tear for the nine people he gunned down during a weekly Bible study.

The death penalty is more than justified for Dylann Roof because of the scope and premeditation of his horrific acts, the vulnerability of the people he killed and the lack of remorse he has shown since leaving nine dead in a Charleston church hall in June 2015, a federal prosecutor told a jury this morning.

Any one of the killings at Emanuel AME Church would warrant death, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams said in his opening statement in the penalty phase of Roof’s hare crimes trial. But taken together, they justify the jury imposing “the most significant penalty available to you.”

Williams told the jury they will learn more in the coming days about the good, innocent people who were killed and the grief of the families left behind. “You will hear that they were pillars of the community, matriarchs of their families, mothers, fathers and children,” he said.


Williams said the jury will also hear about a journal Roof wrote while jailed after the shooting, a diatribe that echoes the racist writings and online manifesto he produced prior to the church massacre. In the jailhouse journal, Roof doubles down on his beliefs that the killings were warranted because “African Americans need to pay for what they have done,” he said.

Roof wrote that he hoped to spark racial unrest and inspire people to take similar action, Williams said. “He says ‘I did all I could do, now it is in the hands of my brothers,’” Williams said.

Acting as his own attorney, Roof is expected to give his much-anticipated opening statement this morning to jurors who will decide whether he should be executed or receive a life sentence for his crimes.

If the 22-year-old speaks at any length, his words will mark the first time most people have heard much from him outside of his taped confession, aired in court last month, and a few sentences he uttered during jury selection. He opted to act as his own attorney then as well.

The penalty phase got underway at 9:30 a.m. with the judge discussing various procedural matters and stipulations with prosecutors and Roof, who arrived in court unshackled and dressed in a dark sweater and slacks. For the past two hearings, outside of the jury’s presence, Roof had been handcuffed and chained at the ankles, wearing a striped jail jumpsuit.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel said he did not want to give the jury the impression that Roof was being treated differently, but he will not allow the avowed white supremacist - now convicted in connection with nine killing and three attempted slayings - to approach witnesses or the jury.


Although he let his renowned defense attorneys represent him during the guilty phase of the trial, Roof repeatedly has reiterated that he will act as his own attorney during the penalty phase. U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel advised Roof against the move, calling it “strategically unwise” and praising the defense attorneys, but ultimately ruled that Roof has a constitutional right to do so.

Roof apparently took the leap to keep his attorneys, now relegated to mere advisers, from introducing evidence about his psychiatric state. Typically, in the penalty phase of a death penalty trial, defense attorneys offer mitigating evidence, such as that a killer suffers a severe mental illness, addiction or the effects of abuse, to persuade jurors to choose a life in prison sentence.

However, after Roof’s attorneys indicated they planned to introduce mental health evidence during this stage of the trial, Roof sought to represent himself. He then told Gergel that he does not, in fact, plan to offer such evidence. He has said he doesn’t plan to offer any evidence at all or call any witnesses but will give an opening statement and closing argument.

Prosecutors, however, will move full speed ahead. They listed 38 potential witnesses to call. Many are grieving relatives of those killed who will describe their deceased loved ones and the enormous devastation their deaths have left behind. That testimony should begin after prosecutors give their opening statements first Wednesday morning.