CHARLESTON, S.C. — Federal prosecutors are nearing the end of their presentation to convince jurors that Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof deserves to be executed, and the presiding judge said he expects jurors will begin deliberations in the case Tuesday.
On Friday, the third day of the penalty phase in the trial, prosecutors again highlighted Roof’s racist writings, and the impact his crime had on those whose loved ones were killed. FBI Agent Joseph Hamski read aloud some of Roof’s rants in a journal found in his jail cell and his online communications, where Roof proclaimed that white women who date black men are “race-traitors” and bemoaned that more people would not take hateful action.
“If we were to, for example, become completely ruthless with blacks, or implement a harsh eugenics program, who could stop us?” Roof wrote in his journal.
Roof, 22, was convicted last month of federal hate crimes for his 2015 rampage at Charleston’s historic Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, where he fatally shot nine parishioners because they were black. Jurors are now considering whether he should face the death penalty or life in prison.
U.S. District Judge Richard M. Gergel said Friday that he will provide proposed jury instructions to prosecutors and Roof over the weekend, and he hopes the case will be in the jury’s hands by Tuesday. Prosecutors had already indicated that they expect to rest their case Monday, and Roof, who is representing himself, has said he will present no evidence. Gergel said he will then send jurors home and bring them back for closing arguments the following day.
When jurors’ deliberations begin, they will weigh whether the aggravating factors in the case — Roof’s motivation, his lack of remorse and the impact of his crimes on the victims’ loved ones — outweigh any mitigating evidence, such as Roof’s offer to plead guilty or the possibility that he could change.
Over the past week, jurors have heard emotional testimony from the loved ones of those Roof killed and read chilling passages from a journal Roof kept in prison. In those writings, Roof said that his crime was “worth it,” and even speculated that he would be pardoned if sentenced to life in prison. Hamski testified that as recently as Monday, just before the penalty phase of Roof’s trial began, he saw Roof wearing shoes with racist symbols drawn on them. Online, Roof used the handle “LilAryan.”
Roof has not questioned any witnesses, and he used his opening statement only to tell jurors that he had fired his attorneys because he did not want them offering evidence about his mental health. He did not, he told the panel, have mental health issues.
“There’s nothing wrong with me psychologically,” he said.
While Roof has said he intends to offer no evidence, he has, in court filings, objected to some of the emotional character of prosecutors’ presentation and asked that they be limited in the amount of victim impact witnesses they can call. Gergel ultimately rebuffed that request, though he did ask prosecutors to expedite their case.
After Roof’s federal trial concludes, he must still face state charges, and prosecutors have indicated that they will seek the death penalty in that case, too. The state proceedings have been delayed until the federal trial is resolved.