Dylann Roof stood before a jury and said that those who seek to execute him know nothing about real hatred. He offered no excuse or apology for the murders he committed inside of Emanuel AME. Instead he took his final opportunity to address the 12 jurors tasked with deciding his fate to stay true to their own opinions — and reminded them that only one voice of dissent is needed to save him from execution.
“I think it’s safe to say that no one in their right mind wants to go into a church and kill people,” Roof said as he read from a single sheet of paper that he had ripped from a legal pad.
Referring to his videotaped confession to FBI agents less than one day after he murdered nine parishioners at Bible study, Roof said that he didn’t tell agents that he hated black people. Instead he told authorities that he hated what they did, the perceived crimes that African Americans committed against the white race.
“Anyone who hates anything, in their mind they have a good reason,” Roof said. “The ones who hate me have been misled. Anyone who thinks I’m filled with hate has no idea what real hate is.”
Taking several long pauses as he read through his closing statements, Roof told the jury that each of them had sworn that they could remain true to their own opinions when it comes to sentencing him to death.
“And only one of you has to disagree with the other jurors,” Roof said before turning his head to U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel and concluding, “That’s all.”
But for the two hours before Roof addressed the court, assistant U.S. attorney Jay Richardson walked the jury through his crime, the planning that led up to his murderous act, and the lives that the 22-year-old white supremacist cut short. Roof entered Mother Emanuel with hate in his heart and a Glock, Richardson told the jury. A stranger to the 12 parishioners gathered for Bible study, Roof was welcomed in the church. He sat with his victims for 40 minutes before opening fire more than 75 times.
“You know the last moments this group of 12 spent together,” Richardson said, “but you also know how extraordinarily good these people were before the defendant chose to walk into the church that night.”
The prosecutor offered a window into the lives of Roof’s nine victims, the lives they touched, all that they overcame, and the potential that was stolen. Richardson detailed Roof’s lengthy preparation leading up to the shooting. Not only did he carefully select a target, but he also spent years crafting his racist ideology that would fuel the attack. Richardson argued that Roof chose Mother Emanuel due to its rich history and targeted individuals that he knew were not just infrequent worshippers, but pillars of the church and their community.
“He chose these great people. He went there hoping to find the best among us. And he did,” Richardson said.
In his writings, Roof justified his actions as necessary to inciting a race war. He expressed sorrow for his parents, whom he knew would be greatly affected by his crime. He felt pity for himself, knowing that he would never again enjoy a movie or drive a car. But as Richardson told the jury during his closing statements, Roof never showed any remorse for killing. Faced with the possibility of execution or life in prison without the possibility of parole, his fate now rests in the hands of 12 jurors.