CHARLESTON, S.C. — Dylann Roof is guilty of murder and hate crimes, a federal jury decided in the slayings of nine people last year at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
The next question is whether the jury will give Roof the death penalty. Testimony for that phase of the trial is set to begin Jan. 3.
Roof’s hatred is “vast,” prosecutors told jurors in closing arguments earlier in the day. Roof, 22, of Columbia, was convicted of 33 charges, nine of them involving hate crimes, for the June 2015 shooting deaths of parishioners during a Bible study because of the color of their skin.
“After he killed (the Rev.) Clementa Pinckney, he did not stop. He embraced that hatred, and he executed eight more people,” federal prosecutor Nathan Williams told jurors Thursday morning.
“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.
Roof, too, is charged with discharging a gun while committing a crime. And he is charged with obstruction of the exercise of religion, because he killed “people as they were praying,” Williams said.
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,” Williams told jurors, urging them to find Roof guilty.
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.
Roof’s defense attorney, David Bruck, put up no witnesses Wednesday and has admitted Roof’s guilt to jurors. But he has been trying to make Roof seem confused or delusional rather than rational.
During his closing arguments, 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. 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 has throughout the trial, Roof sat motionless during closing arguments and as U.S. Judge Richard 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 is comprised of eight white women, two black women, one black male and one white male. The alternates did not deliberate with the jury.
Thursday was the last time the jury will hear from Bruck. Roof plans to represent himself during the penalty phase of the trial. Roof’s attorneys had said for months that Roof would plead guilty if the death penalty were off the table, but prosecutors would not agree to that.