Grace Beahm/Post and Courier
Dylann Roof appears in a Charleston courthouse moments before pleading guilty to state charges for the murder of nine black parishioners at Emanuel AME Church
In an extended jailhouse visit on the eve of his federal trial, Dylann Roof told his parents to avoid the courthouse. Vacillating between hysterical laughter and creeping suspicion, Roof sat in a small cement room as his mother and father watched his face drift in and out of the frame of the monitor. Lifting a phone to his ear, the white nationalist who killed nine black parishioners inside a Bible study at Emanuel AME Church offered a final warning to his father.
"I'm going to do something to make it worse before it starts," Roof said.
Up to that point, Roof had seemingly entertained himself by toying with his parents. As shown in three hours of videotaped prison visits unsealed by a federal judge and screened for members of the press Tuesday, Roof begins the conversation by feigning complete ignorance about every question his parents ask. He pretends not to know what a judge or a courtroom are, only to smirk into the camera as his father offers some sort of explanation. The first sign of actual communication comes as Roof and his father commiserate over the incredible amount of money being spent by the court to carry out Roof's trial.
"Instead of taking the plea deal, they decided to waste money. But that's politics," Ben Roof told his son last November.
As their conversation drifts from finances to Roof's complete distrust of his defense attorneys, he lets out an exaggerated cackle and his eyes begin to tear as he mockingly tells his parents that he was born with syphilis and the disease has rotted his mind. This is the type of humor that Roof relies on to entertain himself during these visits.
Ben Roof then recounts a dream he had about his son. Dylann Roof had slicked-back hair and he was serenading a woman — a dramatic departure from the greasy bowl cut and striped prison jumpsuit that appeared before Ben and Amy Roof that day.
Roof asks his father if he's ever heard of Sigmund Freud, and his face lights up when his father answers yes. He then tells his dad that he has "repression."
"Repression? I have depression. Since about a year and a half ago," Ben Roof says, referring to the night of the shooting at Mother Emanuel.
Dylann Roof pretends not to remember. During the entirety of their conversation that day, Roof's defenses only seem to drop when he begins talking to his mother about his cats back at home. Roof's tone grows more and more aggressive as he begins to suspect that the animals are being overfed.
The family's meeting that day ended shortly after Roof told his father about his plans to "do something to make it worse" before the trial begins. Visibly upset, Ben Roof hands the phone to Roof's mother as he wipes a tear from his eye. Unaware of her son's latest threat, Amy Roof asks Dylann what he said to make his father so upset. Ben Roof briefly leaves the room before returning to chastise his son, who seems unable to grasp the weight of his crime.
"You know everything you've done reflects on us as a family," Ben Roof says into the receiver, taking an authoritative tone.
Dylann Roof backpedals, saying his comment was just a joke. Faced with her son's threat of making things worse for everyone involved, Amy Roof tells her son, "Baby, nothing could be worse than what you've already done."
Returning to the Charleston jail on Dec. 27, 2016, after Roof was found guilty on all federal charges, his father and younger sister discuss the aftermath of the first phase of the trial. Ben Roof says he finally read his son's online manifesto that called for an armed uprising of the white race. Dylann Roof calls it the worst thing he's ever written.
Questioned about his insistence on representing himself in the upcoming sentencing phase of the trial, Roof repeats that his attorneys are deceitful and promises that his opening statement will be the best his father has ever heard. Roof asks his dad if he watched the video of his confession. His dad replies that he watched part of it, and Roof asks why he didn't just ignore the video when it appeared online. Ben Roof says that he just wanted to see his son's face.
Just over a week later, Roof's mother paid him another visit, this time accompanied by her boyfriend. Roof and his mother discuss the cats; he continually berates her over her failure to find the specific articles of clothing he wishes to wear in court, and Roof's mother pleads with him to allow his attorneys to represent him in court.
"They need to sit there so I can abuse them," Roof tells his mother with an touch of glee.
"Dylann, do you know how that sounds?" she asks.
"Funny," Roof answers.
"More like pathetic," Amy Roof responds.
Dylann Roof brushes off his mother's comments, unwilling to move past his extreme distrust for the lawyers working to save him from execution. He begins to boast that he's an attorney now, his first trial being a high-profile capital case. Roof tells his mother to look his attorneys in the eyes the next time they pass. He says she'll see tiny flames burning within because they are the "spawns of hell, and he's the attorney." His mother asks when they traded places, a tortured joke that draws a brief laugh from Roof.
Amy Roof begins to think aloud about ways to save her son from execution. She wants his competency to stand trial challenged and considers writing the governor. As the time left in their visit begins to dwindle, Amy Roof's face lights up as she realizes that more time has been added. She asks about the food in prison and if the inmates celebrated Christmas, rattling off questions to keep her son's interest. Dylann Roof grows impatient, telling his mother he doesn't know what they can talk about for 30 more minutes.
Fifteen days after this meeting with his mother, Roof would be sentenced to death. At no point during their jailhouse meeting does Roof apologize to his parents for the crime he committed. At no point in court did he offer any remorse to his victims' families forever robbed of just a few moments more with their loved ones.