Jury convicts Dylann Roof on all counts in Mother Emanuel AME slayings
CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Dylann Roof has been found guilty on all 33 charges in federal court for the Mother Emanuel AME church shooting which took the lives of nine people.
The jury took less than two hours to reach the verdict.
Family members of victims held hands and squeezed one another's arms as the verdicts were read. One woman nodded her head every time the clerk said "guilty."
Jurors convicted Roof of hate crimes, obstruction of religion and weapons charges.
Roof was found guilty in the deaths of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, 41; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; Tywanza Sanders, 26; Ethel Lance, 70; Susie Jackson, 87; Depayne Middleton Doctor, 49; Rev. Daniel Simmons, 74; and Myra Thompson, 59.
Following the verdict, church bells were heard ringing across the courthouse. A chaplain said they rang in the name of justice.
"Racism, discrimination and hatred was put on trial in Charleston and lost 33 times," said Malcolm Graham, brother of Cynthia Hurd.
"It is my hope that the survivors, the families & the people of South Carolina can find some peace in the fact that justice has been served," Gov. Nikki Haley said in a statement following the verdict.
Jurors were sent to the jury room at 1:15 p.m. and returned with a verdict around 3:18 p.m.
The court will now be in recess for the holidays.
The jury will return on Jan. 3, 2017 to hear additional testimony during the sentencing phase of the proceedings.
Roof told the judge following the verdict that he wished to represent himself during that phase of the trial.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel told Roof he has until Jan. 3, 2017 to change his mind about representing himself.
When all that additional evidence is presented during that phase, the panel will then vote to either place Roof in prison for the rest of his life without the possibility of parole, or give him the ultimate punishment by sentencing him to death.
It was an emotional day at the federal courthouse in downtown Charleston filled with sadness but also hope and relief.
Many remembered their loved ones killed, but also knew justice is being served.
"We thank God that we can now move on," said Rob Dewey with Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy after the verdict was announced. .
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams gave a powerful closing argument Thursday morning.
He spoke about the hatred Dylann Roof had in his heart, saying,"What we've seen over the last six days is a tremendous, tremendous amount of hatred."
"Hatred had no place in that sanctuary," said the prosecution in their closing argument. "But hatred came to those tables just the same."
Williams went on to say how cold and calculated Roof was in planning the shooting, making seven trips to Charleston and "scouting the area" until that deadly night.
"Those families will never get through it," Dewey said."It's never a total recovery and it's never going to be. So we're going to need to do the best we can and support each other."
The government argued the church should be a place of safety, where shooting victim Rev. Clementa Pinckney could bring his daughter, and survivor Felicia Sanders could bring her granddaughter.
But Roof entered the church and fired upon the group at their most vulnerable moment, while their eyes were closed in prayer, they said.
The prosecutor's voice rose as he spoke about the shooting. Susie Jackson, 87, suffered the greatest number of gunshot wounds at 10. "This defendant's hatred focused on the most vulnerable," he said.
The prosecution reviewed evidence including photos of Dylann Roof and of the deceased on the church's floor. In one graphic photo, Tywanza Sanders is reaching out to Susie Jackson, who was his aunt.
Gasps were heard in the courtroom.
"That church was a sanctuary because these good people created a sanctuary," the prosecution said in closing.
"Why did Dylann Roof do this?," said Roof's attorney David Bruck. Why was he motivated?"
Bruck said the question that needs to be answered in the case is why a man in his early 20s felt like he was in a war with another race and needed to murder others before killing himself.
"Every bit of his motivation came from things he saw on the internet," Bruck said.
Roof indicated the Trayvon Martin case is what first set him on the path he eventually followed.
The defense attorney said Roof took information that he found on the internet and "regurgitated" it as his own ideas and thoughts on race.
Bruck also told the jury to consider how isolated Roof was; many of his photos were taken alone.
U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel told the 12 jurors — eight white women, two black women, one black man and one white man — their verdict in the case must be unanimous. They are to decide the case solely on the evidence they received during the trial.
The guilt phase of the trial began and ended with what was some of the most emotional and gut-wrenching testimony of the proceedings, which came courtesy of Felicia Sanders and Polly Sheppard, the survivors of the Mother Emanuel shooting.
Sanders, who had to wipe her eyes several times with tissue while speaking, was enjoying Bible study with the victims, Sheppard and her granddaughter when Roof opened fire.
Her son, Tywanza Sanders, and aunt, Jackson, were two of the victims.
Sanders testified for the government that Roof was offered a seat next to Pinckney and a Bible when he entered and indicated he wanted to join their worship group. The 12 church regulars and one supposed guest had stood at the end and closed their eyes to pray when the witness said "a loud sound went off."
By the time she realized what was happening, Sanders testified that Roof had already shot Pinckney.
As the massacre continued, Sanders told the jurors and the court audience she was trying to shield her 11-year-old granddaughter from harm. That meant telling the child to be quiet and play dead.
The mother was a witness as her wounded son, Tywanza Sanders, stood and asked Roof why he was doing this. She testified the shooter's response was, "I have to do this," before shooting him several more times.
Sanders became very emotional when explaining that, after the shooting ended, her son tried to crawl and check on his aunt, Jackson. His mother said she tried to get him to stay still until help arrived. He eventually requested water and indicated he couldn't breathe, she added.
Tywanza Sanders eventually succumbed to his injuries inside the church's fellowship hall.
"I watched my son come into this world and I watched my son leave this world," Sanders said sobbing.
That comment led to the judge calling for a recess, as emotions ran high in the courtroom. Jurors were in tears, attorneys were crying and victims' family members were distraught.
Even some members of the press found themselves unable to fight the urge to cry.
When defense attorney David Bruck questioned Sanders on cross examination as to what she heard the defendant say he would do after the shooting, the witness indicated Roof had planned to kill himself.
"He's evil," Sanders said of the defendant. "There's no place on Earth for him except the pit of Hell."
Sheppard, the last witness for the prosecution, testified she dove under a table when the shots rang out. Eventually, the shooter confronted her.
"He told me to shut up and he asked me, 'Did I shoot you yet?,'" Sheppard said.
At one point, the witness testified she was able to get a hold of a cellphone and call 911. A tape of that call was played for the jury as Sheppard listened to her words to dispatch from the witness stand.
"Help me, Lord, please. Help me, Lord," Sheppard was heard saying on the 911 tape.
The dispatcher asked her for a description of the shooter. Sheppard described him as a "young, 21-year-old white dude."
The extent of Roof's carnage was on display during the second day of testimony, when graphic photos from the crime scene were entered into evidence and displayed for the jury.
Many of the images were disturbing, as they depicted bodies lying on the floor of the church's fellowship hall and under tables. Numerous pools of blood were also seen.
Brittany Burke, a former crime scene investigator for the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division who responded to the church, testified that approximately over 50 fired projectiles, or bullets, were recovered from the autopsies of the nine victims.
Additionally, investigators recovered 74 shell casings and seven cartridge magazines from the church, Burke added.
Further testimony showed that all those rounds were fired from the gun Roof purchased from a weapons store in Columbia. Surveillance footage from that business taken during the middle of April 2015 showed the defendant buying and walking out with the Glock .45-millimeter handgun.
FBI specialists provided evidence and testimony that the killings were orchestrated with that very weapon.
Then there were the items recovered from Roof's car, including a handwritten letter to his mother and one to his father apologizing for his actions and saying he loved them, and a journal in which the defendant documented why he felt he needed to do what he did.
That journal basically mirrored the online manifesto Roof uploaded to the website LastRhodesian.com, a reference to the South African country during apartheid. In both, he laid out his grievances against blacks.
"Segretgation was not a bad thing," Roof wrote in the manifesto. "It was a defensive measure. Segregation did not exist to hold back negroes. It existed to protect us from them. And I mean that in multiple ways. Not only did it protect us from having to interact with them, and from being physically harmed by them, but it protected us from being brought down to their level. Integration has done nothing but bring whites down to (the) level of brute animals. The best example of this is obviously our school system."
FBI agents testified about other electronic evidence retrived in the case. That included GPS data from a Garmin device taken from Roof's car that showed he made several trips from Columbia to Charleston in the months leading up to the shooting. Those trips included his scouting of the church.
Throughout the government's case, numerous photos were entered into evidence, with many showing the defendant pointing a gun toward the camera. Another showed Roof wearing what appeared to be a white pillowcase fashioned into a Ku Klux Klan hood.
According to phone records entered into evidence, one call was placed to Mother Emanuel on Feb. 23, 2015, from the phone at the Columbia home Roof's mother stayed at. It lasted 13 seconds.
The government's primary piece of evidence on day three of testimony was the taped confession Roof made to FBI agents shortly after his arrest in Shelby, N.C., during a traffic stop on the morning of June 18.
Speaking in a calm voice, Roof told the agents "I did it" when they told him they wanted to find out what transpired the night before at Mother Emanuel.
Roof talked further about how he bought the Glock .45 handgun used in the shooting roughly two months prior, following his 21st birthday.
He walked into the church with a black pouch that held seven additional magazines, each loaded with 11 bullets. All told, Roof entered Mother Emanuel with 88 rounds of ammunition.
"I am guilty," Roof tells the agents during the taped interview. "We all know I'm guilty."
During his confession, Roof said it was the 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin, a black man, by George Zimmerman that finally woke him up. Those accounts led to him looking up black-on-white crime in a search engine.
Roof said his actions at the church were the result of perceived offenses against whites by black all across the country, such as the raping of Caucasian women. He added what he did was "miniscule" when compared to the other crimes he felt were being inflicted upon his race.
"I don't think the white race is the dominant race," Roof said."I think it should be though."
The defendant was even heard on the tape saying he would be in favor of reinstating segregation.
While much was learned about the defendant and his actions on June 17, testimony from the Mother Emanuel survivors also offered a glimpse into the lives of those who were lost.
Sanders said Simmons was very serious about the Wednesday evening Bible study held at the church, while Sheppard said his nickname was "dapper Dan" because of his impeccable style of dress.
"Rev. Simmons, to me, was the backbone of the church," Sanders said during her testimony.
Thompson was described as being very actively involved in the church, including work to become an ordained minister and serving on several committees.
"She would be bossing me around," Sheppard said from the witness stand on Wednesday, which elicited laughs from the courtroom audience.
Sanders became emotional during her testimony when talking about Hurd, pausing to take off her glasses and wipe her eyes with a tissue.
"She was very, very warm," Sanders said of Hurd.
Upon seeing a photo of Singleton, Sheppard smiled.
"She could preach," Sheppard said about Singleton.
Sanders testified that Doctor's four daughters would often bring milkshakes with them when they came for Bible study. The children were not present on that particular night.
Both Sanders and Sheppard said Lance's favorite song was the Christian standard "One Day At A Time."
"You can look at her smile now and see how funny she was," Sanders said when she was shown a photo of Lance during her testimony.
Tywanza Sanders, the youngest victim, was described as being very close with his mother, Felicia Sanders.
The elder Sanders said her son took on a "father role" with her granddaughter.
"Aunt Susie" is how Sanders referred to Jackson throughout her testimony. She testified the victim would get up every morning and call all her sisters and all her friends to make sure they had taken their medication.
"She would do anything for you," Sheppard said of Jackson.
When the defendant entered the church the night of June 17, both survivors said it was Rev. Clementa Pinckney who got a chair and offered Roof a seat right next to him before getting the then 21-year-old a Bible.
Sheppard was shown a photo of Pinckney while on the witness stand and referred to him as "my pastor."
Roof had indicated he targeted Mother Emanuel because its parishioners were black and his hope was his actions would lead to an uprising that saw whites targeting African Americans.
FBI agent Michael Stansbury was one of the law enforcement officials who interviewed Roof following his arrest in Shelby, N.C.
Stansbury told the jury the last thing he said to Roof following the taped confession was his plan to start a race war did not work. Instead, the people of Charleston came together as a result of the shooting.
His final words to the defendant were these two - "You failed."
Copyright 2016 WCSC/The Associated Press contributed to this report. All Rights Reserved.