Courtroom sketch artist's depiction of the emotional first day in court for Dylann Roof
When it came time to argue why Dylann Roof should not be executed, no one raised their hand. The 22-year-old white supremacist waived his opportunity to speak on his own behalf during the lengthy hearing where he was formally sentenced to death, and anyone in the courtroom who may have known him remained quiet. But this silence was juxtaposed by the more than 30 friends and family members of Roof’s victims who stood to address the man who killed their loved ones inside Emanuel AME Church.
“On June 17, 2015, the temple, the house of God, was desecrated by what we now know to be a heinous act,” said Rev. Eric Manning, the current pastor at Mother Emanuel.
Explaining that he buckled when first asked to assume the role and responsibility of leading the church, Manning told the court that the resilience of Emanuel AME has been a beacon of hope and hate has not had the final word.
“What Satan may have meant for evil, God has meant for good,” Manning said. “I know we will not allow the enemy to steal our joy, our peace, and our hope.”
Manning was joined by the family members and friends of those who died inside Mother Emanuel to say that Roof’s efforts to spark a race war were in vain. One after the other, they stood before Roof at the front of the courtroom. Anger and sorrow mixed with faith in forgiveness as they spoke.
“What are you?” Marsha Spencer, a member of Mother Emanuel, asked Roof as he stared down, unwilling to look at anyone who chose to address him. “What kind of subhuman miscreant could create such evil?”
Citing Charles Manson and Hitler, Spencer then told Roof that his plan to incite a race war wasn’t original. She then told the convicted killer that the last image anyone wanted to see of him was Roof being led away in handcuffs to await his “gruesome destiny.”
Gayle Jackson, niece of shooting victim Susie Jackson, was among those who told Roof that he was destined for hell. Gracyn Doctor, daughter of DePayne Middleton-Doctor, called Roof Satan before offering a message of perseverance over hate.
“We can go out now and really begin to heal ... We are strong. We are black and beautiful, and we can do this,” she said.
Some took their opportunity to speak to thank the court and all those who participated in the trial for arriving at a swift and just sentence. Jurors who had decided Roof’s fate asked to return to the courtroom Wednesday to see his final sentence handed down. Shirrene Goss, sister of shooting victim Tywanza Sanders, told Roof that he deserved every bit of the sentence he received. Only one family member spoke against Roof’s execution.
“I still don’t want you to die,” said Rev. Sharon Risher, daughter of shooting victim Ethel Lance, who wished that Roof would instead spend the rest of his life in a prison cell, thinking about his actions.
“You made them martyrs. You made them the face of America,” Risher told Roof before explaining that the death of her sister has given her a platform to crusade for the victims.
Throughout it all, Roof kept his eyes down, registering no emotion. U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel denied Roof’s request for new attorneys. Roof now has 14 days to appeal his sentence. With a pending state trial, he will remain confined at Al Cannon Detention Center for the foreseeable future.
Before Judge Gergel read Roof his sentence, he took the time to say that there are no winners in this trial. No verdict can return the lives lost in Mother Emanuel. But Gergel told the families and the community that he hopes they can feel some sense of justice after what has happened.