Convicted Charleston church shooter formally sentenced to death
CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The man accused of killing nine parishioners at a downtown Charleston church in 2015 was formally sentenced to death Wednesday.
Dylann Roof, 22, received the sentence in a Charleston courtroom Wednesday after impact statements from loved ones of the victims of the June 17, 2015, Mother Emanuel AME Church shooting testified.
As U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel read through the 33 counts Roof was charged with and affirmed the jury's decision, Roof looked straight ahead and showed no reaction.
He also chose not to speak on Wednesday and kept a blank face as Gergel sentenced him.
Roof then requested new representation, telling the judge that he "doesn't trust" his standby counsel.
Gergel denied the motion stating, "I feel it would be a great loss of resources and talent...I deny your motion."
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.
Roof still faces state charges in the murders, however his state trial has been indefinitely postponed.
Law enforcement officials were seen placing a jacket over Roof as he exited the vehicle and walked to the center.
"We have all received a lot of love and support," Jennifer Pinckney said."We're greatful and thankful for everyone out there. It's just been overwhelming from day one. And so we just want to say thank you to everyone. "
"We have a greater sense of relief as we are nearing the end of the judicial process," said Alanna Simmons, granddaughter of Daniel Simons.
"What I need Mr. Roof to know was that he may have removed her in the physical but spiritually she's there hand-in-hand with me," said Arthur Steven Hurd, Cynthia Hurd's husband, who spoke during the impact statements in court earlier on Wednesday.
Gov. Nikki Haley mentioned the Emanuel 9 during her State of the State address Wednesday night as among the tragedies she remembered.
"But above all, I will remember how the good people of South Carolina responded to those tragedies, with love and generosity and compassion, and what that has meant for our state," Haley said.
Before Gergel handed down the formal sentencing the court heard impact statements from more than 30 family members of the victims.
Roof did not turn his head or acknowledge those statements, even after some commanded him to look at them.
Felicia Sanders said she was spared by Roof because he wanted her to tell the world the shooting happened because he hated black people. Sanders held a blood-stained Bible she had that night and said she forgave Roof because that was the easiest thing to do. But she said Roof has done nothing to help himself.
"You took my loved ones away from me, and since June 17, I've gotten to know you," Sanders said. "I know you because you're in my head. You're in my head every day."
Sanders says she can't even close her eyes to pray because Roof started his shooting as Emanuel AME church members held their closing prayer.
"I wanted to hate you, but my faith tells me 'no'" one family member told Roof.
"You don't like to be called evil ... but young man, you are among the worst kind of evil," Shirrene Goss, Tywanza Sanders' sister, said. Sanders was 26, the youngest of the nine victims. "You didn't accomplish anything but deep heart for a lot of people. And what you did do was unjustly take away my brother from me. My brother didn't deserve what he got, none of the victims did. But you deserve every bit of the sentence that you receive."
Mable Washington, Sanders' aunt, said he loved all of his relatives in his own way.
"The cousins have took it extremely hard, missing Tywanza," Washington said. "They miss his phone calls. They miss coming home and not having him there."
Washington said Roof didn't destroy anything but brought everyone together.
"The people that you did take away, I know they would tell you, 'Son, before you leave this earth, you better repent,'" Washington said.
Eartha Brown, another family member, said she would not look at Roof while speaking. She said she can no longer walk downstairs into the basement of Mother Emanuel AME Church where the shooting happened.
Brown also said everyone in the courtroom is listening to what they are saying except Roof.
Janet Scott received a moment of laughter when she described herself as Tywanza Sanders' "favorite aunt."
Scott loudly called Roof by his first name and said she knows he can hear her.
"I wish you would look at me, boy, but I know you hear me," Scott said.
She said Sanders was an organ donor, but that his organs were unable to be used after his killing.
Kenya Pinckney, brother of State Sen. and the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, thanked the court for the "swift and just sentence." He said no one has been impacted more by Clementa Pinckney's death than his wife and daughters.
Annie Simmons, Rev. Daniel Simmons' former wife, addressed the defendant as Mr. Roof and suggested two words for him: "but God."
"What does God require of us, but to love and do justice?" Simmons said. She said the nine victims were welcomed "home."
Alana Simmons, Daniel Simmons' granddaughter, said even though he died as the result of hate, his legacy is love.
"The thing that I'll miss the most about my grandfather is his strength," she said, adding that Roof cannot stop the family members from moving on with love and strength.
Rose Simmons, Daniel Simmons' daughter, described the victims as "nine innocent, beautiful people."
"I don't grieve so much for my father, because I know he and his eight precious, eternal comrades, they are, at this very moment, experiencing the greatest peace," Simmons said. "And in knowing that, I have peace. And it keeps me steady in my walk."
She did say that she does grieve for Roof. Simmons said her father, in his "last earthly act," extended a "hand of friendship" to Roof.
"In my final act of this trial, I want to extend to you a hand of love," she said to the defendant. "I pray that one day, when you meet Jesus Christ ... he will also extend to you his hand of love."
Daniel Simmons Jr., Daniel Simmons' son, said he would speak to the spirit inside Roof, since the defendant won't look at him.
"Feel the spirit. Feel the awesome power of the Holy Spirit," Simmons said. He said he forgives Roof for his actions. "You are just a body being used, (and) did not understand the presence of the evil that possesses you. I know you don't understand that, but God requires me to forgive you."
Brenda Hargrove, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton's aunt, said a poster dedicated to Sharonda still hangs in the Newark, N.J., church she was baptized.
Sharonda has always been a sweet, sweet person with a sweet, sweet spirit," she said. She recalled getting the phone call informing her that her niece had been shot. "When I see her picture, it still saddens me. It still grieves me."
Bethane Middleton Brown, DePayne Middleton Doctor's sister, told Roof he put in all that effort but got nothing he wanted in return.
"I have not, to this day, been able to find a name low enough to warrant your self's worth. God's got your number and he knows where you live. Death's got a warrant for you. You can't have my joy. It's simply not yours to take. You cannot have it."
Ashton Timoney, niece of DePayne Doctor, began her statement by saying "to the devil sitting here today," referencing Roof. She said she will not address him by his name.
"How dare you sit here every day, looking dumbfaced, acting like you did nothing wrong, and have the nerve to insinuate you were misled," Timoney said. "You are the biggest coward I have ever seen in my life. The very sight of you just makes me sick."
At one point, she referred to Roof as an "animal."
"I have many choice words I would love to say to you, but God is working on me," she said.
"You will rot in Hell where you belong," Gracyn Doctor, DePayne Doctor's daughter said to Roof.
Rev. Middleton, DePayne Middleton Doctor's father, thanked the members of the court and the prosecution, saying he felt "lifted up" by the decision that was rendered.
"It's not over for you yet. There's a group coming back to you, the same group you have destroyed," Middleton said to Roof. "They will come back, but they will be led by the archangel of Heaven."
After a short recess, court resumed with more testimony.
Blondell Gadsen, sister of Myra Thompson, said she lost a lot since the tragedy.
"I lost a sister. I lost a childhood friend. I lost a college roommate," Gadsen said. "I lost someone who ... when there was a problem or situation in my immediate family or with other siblings, she was the voice of reason."
Gadsen said she has gained a greater sense of God since the shooting.
"What I know is, the only thing wrong with him is his heart," Gadsen said.
Marlene Coakley-Jenkins, another of Myra Thompsons' sisters, asked Roof to take ownership for who he can be, "and be the best you that you could be, from this point forward."
Esther Lance, Ethel Lance's daughter, was very emotional as she addressed Roof. She said she has dropped from 195 pounds to 132 pounds since the shooting. Lance held up a photo of her mother as she spoke. She asked Roof how he could put the families of the victims through this, as well as his own family, referring to Roof's mother suffering a heart attack during the trial.
Ethel Lance's son, Gary Washington, used sign language and interpreters to make his statement.
Washington, through his interpreters, said he went to the hotel the night of the shooting. Police informed him that his mother had been killed. Washington said he had a medical emergency following his mother's death. He goes on to say he was asleep one night in the hospital, woke up and saw his mother and the other eight Mother Emanuel victims there in the room with him.
Sharon Risher, Ethel Lance's daughter, told Roof she does not want him to die. Instead, she would rather he sit in a cell for the rest of his life and think about the victims.
"I will continue to be the voice of my family. I cannot be my mother. I don't want to be my mother, but I have been given a task of trying to bring a family together that has been torn apart through your heinous crimes," Risher said to Roof.
Risher said she will continue to "crusade" for the nine victims. She ended her statement by saying to Roof, "may God have mercy upon you."
Najee Washington, Ethel Lance's granddaughter spoke next.
"In my heart of hearts, I am fine, because I know that she is resting well with my mother in Heaven," Washington said of her grandmother. "I feel like a motherless child. I need help. Lord, I need guidance."
Sheila Capers, Cynthia Hurd's sister-in-law, recalled receiving a phone call at 9:45 p.m., on the night of the shooting from a friend informing her that something had happened at Mother Emanuel.
"Losing her left a gaping hole that will never be filled," Capers said of Hurd. "We miss her so much."
Speaking to Roof, she said, "Dylann, I believe that you can be saved. I pray God send someone to you to reach you."
Capers also thanked Roof's family for the kind words they extended to the relatives of the victims.
"I can't imagine what they're going through," she said.
Melvin Graham, Cynthia Hurd's brother, said he is speaking for one of his brothers, who has been absent from the proceedings because it is just too hard.
"When my sister was executed, and it was an execution... it tore me apart," he said. "I don't have the capacity to hate. The hatred you possess is beyond human comprehension. You wanted to start a race war, but instead of starting a race war, you started a love war."
He referenced all the tributes that came in for his sister, such as a library and scholarships being named in her honor.
Hurd's son, Malcolm, was the next speaker, who said Hurd didn't tell them how to respond when, "their mother is killed by a white racist." But he said she would have wanted him to use his public voice to talk about what happened.
"In Charleston, a year and a half ago, racism was on full display. Racism looks like him," he said, pointing to Roof. "There is no place in society for racism. "This community has demonstrated that love conquers hate."
Hurd's widower, Steve, spoke to Roof, looking at him directly, but was soft-spoken and far enough away from the microphone to make it difficult to hear what he was saying.
"I loved her," Hurd said of his wife. "I was married to her."
"I loved my sister, but God have mercy on you," Eva Dilligard, Susie Jackson's sister, said to Roof.
Denise Dilligard Smalls, another of Susie Jackson's relatives, said she was taught to "look into the eyes" when speaking to a person, which is in reference to Roof refusing to look at the family members as they speak.
"Could you look at me? Could you look at me?" Smalls said to Roof before telling him he deserves the sentence the jury handed down Tuesday.
Cynthia Taylor, Susie Jackson's niece, said Jackson's greatest joy was to have her 70th birthday at Mother Emanuel, the church she loved.
Gayle Jackson, another of Susie Jackson's nieces, said she was hurt by the shooting, because she felt like she wasn't there to protect her aunt.
"I want your soul to burn in hell," Jackson said to Roof. "I want God to have mercy on your mother's soul."
Eleanor Jackson, Susie Jackson's daughter-in-law, spoke about the bond Susie Jackson had with her grandchildren and her son. She said Jackson was always there for her when she was a kid, and growing up. She thanked those who have shown the families love and ended her remarks with, "God bless."
U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel will formally sentence Roof after testimony of those impacted by the shooting is complete.
Roof asked Gergel for the chance to speak, which Gergel granted.
Wednesday morning's hearing began with Gergel denying a motion from Roof's defense. The motion, he said, was to delay the sentencing hearing until a a pre-sentence report can be composed. The judge said he has no need for such a report in this case, as he has a wealth of information on Roof.
A federal jury deliberated for roughly three hours before recommending the death penalty for Roof Tuesday afternoon. He had been convicted in December on 33 federal hate crime and weapon charges.
Some of the jurors may attend the sentencing, although they are not required to do so. A court official confirmed Gergel has opted to keep the names of jurors confidential for the time being. It is not clear whether any of the jurors plan to speak with reporters after Roof's formal sentencing is complete.
Roof is the first person to be capitally prosecuted under the Shepard/Byrd Hate Crimes Act, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
The last federal death sentence handed down was for Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on June 24, 2015. In that case, 24 victims and family members made impact statements and Tsarnaev also made a brief statement and apology.
Charleston School of Law Professor Miller Shealy says it could take about six to eight years before Roof is executed.
"He will probably go to Terre Haute, Indiana, to a facility there, that's where most federal death penalty inmates are, over 50 there, awaiting their punishment," he said.
It's a high-security U.S. Federal Prison where Roof will likely be in solitary confinement on death row. Shealy described it as "like living in a closet maybe with a small window."
But Shealy said Roof will not have a lot of contact with other prisoners.
"He is not going to be in contact with other populations," Shealy said. "He's going to be very isolated, he will be in the cell by himself, he should have access to the yard to the outside world in a very small fenced in confined walled in area where most likely he can't get to people, even touch them through a fence."
Legal experts also say there is the possibility that Roof could choose not to go through the appeals process. Which would mean his execution could occur sooner.
Since modern death penalty laws went into effect in 1988, 76 defendants have been sentenced to death but only three federal death sentences have been carried out.
In federal executions, the method is determined by the state in which sentencing took place. South Carolina allows prisoners to choose between lethal injection and electrocution.
After the jury's decision was read in court Tuesday afternoon, 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.
The hearing begins at 9:30 a.m. Check back for updates.
Copyright 2017 WCSC/The Associated Press Contributed to this report. All rights reserved.