Jury decides Dylann Roof should be put to death for church shooting

Jury sentences Dylann Roof to death for murder of 9 people at Charleston church
Published: Jan. 10, 2017 at 11:12 AM EST|Updated: Jan. 11, 2017 at 1:57 AM EST
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"This is a very hollow victory, because my sister is still gone," Melvin Graham said."I wish...
"This is a very hollow victory, because my sister is still gone," Melvin Graham said."I wish that this verdict would have brought her back, but it can't." (Source: Live 5 News)
Roof was found guilty in the deaths of nine people in the June 17, 2015, shooting at Mother...
Roof was found guilty in the deaths of nine people in the June 17, 2015, shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church. (Source: Family/Facebook)

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A federal jury decided the man convicted in the 2015 Charleston church shootings should be put to death.

A jury deliberated for about two hours before deciding Dylann Roof, 22, should face the death penalty in the June 17, 2015, shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in downtown Charleston.

After the decision was read, the clerk of court polled each juror about the decision.

All 12 jurors indicated this was their "true and correct verdict."

Roof took his seat after the sentence was read. U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel thanked the jurors for their service and has instructed them to go to the jury room.

Once they were out of the room, Roof asked Gergel to appoint him new lawyers to file his motion for a new trial.

Gergel said he thinks Roof's lawyers have performed "admirably" and feels the defendant would be wrong for pushing them aside. However, the judge said he would consider it.

Roof's family issued the following statement Tuesday after the sentence was read:

"We are Dylann Roof's family. We will always love Dylann. We will struggle as long as we live to understand why he committed this horrible attack, which caused so much pain to so many good people. We wish to express the grief we feel for the victims of his crimes, and our sympathy to the families he has hurt. We continue to pray for the Emanuel AME families and the Charleston community."

Roof's defense team also issued a statement:

"We want to express our sympathy to all of the families who were grievously hurt by Dylann Roof's actions. Today's sentencing decision means that this case will not be over for a very long time. We are sorry that, despite our best efforts, the legal proceedings have shed so little light on the reasons for this tragedy."

A formal sentencing hearing for Roof is now scheduled for Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.

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.

Hurd's brother, Melvin Graham, spoke after the jury announced their decision on Tuesday.

"This is a very hollow victory, because my sister is still gone," Melvin Graham said."I wish that this verdict would have brought her back, but it can't."

Graham said he hopes the jury's decision to put Roof to death will send a message to those who have similar feelings because "this community will not tolerate it."

"When my sister was killed, this community pulled together in a way I've never seen before," Graham said."I just wish that feeling, that love that we show each other in the City of Charleston and the state of South Carolina, and around the nation, the warm words, the prayers that came in will continue."

Graham said he believes that the memories of the Emanuel 9 will be with the community for a long time to come since he believes the families will continue to bring about positive changes to make Charleston a better place.

Graham said he doesn't know how to move forward after Tuesday's events, and had mixed emotions regarding Roof being put to death.

"It's a hard thing to know that someone is going to lose their life," Graham said."But when you look at the totality of what happened...it's hard to say that this person deserves to live when the nine others don't."

Graham said Roof took the lives of the nine parishioners in a "brutal fashion with no remorse," deciding the day, the hour and the moment his sister was going to die.

"This wasn't a killing, it was an execution," Graham said."And he admitted to it. And he was proud of it. It's that thing that we pray about every night, 'deliver us from evil'  And evil came."

Word of a decision from the jury came shortly after the judge instructed jurors to use their common sense to answer questions they presented to the court.

Gergel discussed the three questions with the prosecution and Roof, who is acting as his own counsel in the penalty phase of the trial, before the jury returned to the courtroom.

Jurors first wanted to know about a mitigating factor related to whether Roof poses a risk of violence in prison. They asked if that meant he personally could inflict violence on other inmates or prison staff or whether he could also incite violence.

"I think it means what it means," Gergel said about the portion of the charge they are currently addressing.

They also asked about a mitigating factor related to whether the definition of "safely confined" includes also Roof's writings getting out of prison.

There was back and forth between the judge, the prosecution, and Roof's standby counsel, attorney David Bruck. Gergel sided with the prosecution on the first two questions that it wasn't his place to now redefine and possibly narrow the definition of aggravating and mitigating factors.

"I told them in every aspect of this, they are to make an individual determination," Gergel said.

Gergel told the jury he couldn't come back and further define that, telling them they needed to use good sense and common logic to read the jury charge and interpret definitions for themselves.

Several jurors nodded when the judge said this, as if they understood they needed to rely solely on the charge.

The third question was a request to view a piece of evidence in the jury room. Specifically, they wanted to watch a video of State Sen. and the Rev. Clementa Pinckney's speech on the history of the church. Pinckney, the church's pastor, was one of the nine victims.

Jurors gave no indication as to why they wanted to watch the video again, but Gergel said the court would arrange for the video to be replayed in the jury room.

Earlier Tuesday, Roof, who was convicted in December of 33 federal hate crime and weapons charges, delivered his own closing arguments to the jury after the prosecution delivered theirs.

In his brief statement, he spoke directly to jurors who will decide whether he will receive a sentence of life without parole or death.

"I think it's safe to say no one in their right mind wants to go in a church and kill people," Roof said. "You may remember in my confession I said I had to do it. I guess that's not really true. I didn't have to do it, no one made me do it. What I meant when I said that was I felt like I had to do it and I still feel like I had to do it."

Roof said anyone who hates anything in their mind would have a good reason, adding that sometimes that's because they have been misled but sometimes not.

"But I would say in this case, the prosecution and anyone else who hates me are the ones who've been misled," Roof said. "Anyone including the prosecution who thinks I'm full of hatred has no idea what real hate is. They don't know what real hate looks like. They think they do but they really don't," he said.

"I have the right to ask you to give me a life sentence," he said. "I don't know what good that would do anyway. All I know is only one of you has to disagree with giving me the death penalty and during jury selection you were asked if you'd speak up about your opinions. That's all. Thank you."

Roof spoke after Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson who delivered the prosecution's closing arguments, telling jurors Roof's crimes more than meet the standards they'll consider for a possible death sentence. Those standards include that the defendant must be at least 18 years old and intentionally committed the crimes. There are also statutory aggravating factors, including killing "vulnerable" victims.

Richardson said the way Roof mercilessly gunned down the black parishioners at Emanuel AME Church, coupled with his lack of remorse, mean he should receive the harshest sentence available.

Richardson also reviewed emotional testimony jurors have heard about each of the victims and the voids created by their deaths.

Richardson is laying out the standards that must be met for a death sentence,

Richardson is giving the federal government's closing argument during sentencing for Roof for the June 2015 slaughter at Emanuel AME Church. The prosecutor has reviewed testimony they heard about each of the nine victims, as well as Roof's preparations for the shootings and the entrenchment of his hatred toward black people.

U.S. District Judge is now charging the jury, meaning he is giving them instructions about how they will deliberate Roof's fate.

Prosecutors rested their case shortly before 11:30 a.m. Monday. After a 30-minute recess requested by Roof, who was representing himself during the penalty phase, he repeated to the judge his plan to neither call witnesses nor present evidence. He also said he did not wish to testify on his own behalf.

U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel called the jury back into the courtroom and told them to get a good night's sleep before returning Tuesday morning.

With the jury excused for the night, a charge conference was then held in which the prosecution outlined some concerns about the proposed instructions the jury would be given Tuesday morning. One of the concerns focused on the judge telling the jury they do not have to be unanimous on a decision.

The jury has three options: unanimous for death, unanimous for life, or a split decision which will result in life in prison without parole.

The prosecution does not want the judge to instruct the jury before deliberations about the consequences that could happen without a unanimous decision.

The defense meanwhile wants the jury to know the options because they won't know what to be on the lookout for.

Roof also filed two motions on Monday regarding the government's upcoming closing argument, and aggravating factors.

According to the closing argument motion, Roof filed it to prevent "unfair and unconstitutional" comments by the government that may unfairly prejudice the jury.

Roof included a list of terms and phrases he objects to in the government's closing statement.

Those include references to evil, "pit of hell," inflammatory terms relating to Roof's writings, "particularly good" victims, what God told the victims or witnesses, and any argument suggesting that the jury should reject a life sentence because it is the minimum sentence available.

Roof also requested that the court permit him to object when the government makes an "improper argument."

Roof's second motion was to challenge "aggravating factors" being submitted to the jury.

The motion specifically cites the victims being called "vulnerable victims" because they were not "especially vulnerable because of their age, as defined by the law." Roof also says the term "inciting violence" is overbroad and inaccurate.

"There is no evidence that I attempted to incite violence by others in preparation, or subsequent to the acts of violence," Roof stated in the motion.

Finally, Roof stated that the "lack of remorse aggravating factor" is too vague, because it does not include a time period.

"Also , lack of remorse is supposed to be conduct that demonstrates you don't regret the murders as opposed to any viewpoints," the motion stated.

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