CHARLESTON, S.C. — Federal prosecutors on Thursday fully unveiled the racist screed that Dylann Roof penned from a jail cell after he shot and killed nine innocent churchgoers here, using the hate-filled rant to draw a sharp contrast with emotional testimony from the loved ones of those Roof killed.
The journal brought a dramatic end to the second day of the penalty phase in Roof’s trial. Jurors are considering whether to sentence him to life in prison, or to death.
Roof spared virtually no group from his ire, and he made clear he did not regret what he did. Jewish people, he wrote, were “undoubtedly our enemies,” as were Hispanic people, who he said “introduce crime and violence to our country.” He said that being homosexual was “nothing more than a sick fetish” and that he believed Hitler would be “inducted as a saint.”
He seemed to view his violent action as necessary, even brave.
“I would rather live imprisoned knowing I took action for my race than to live with the torture of sitting idle,” Roof wrote. “It isn’t up to me anymore. I did what I could do. I’ve done all I can do. I did what I thought would make the biggest wave, and now the fate of our race sits in the hands of my brothers who continue to live freely.”
Roof warned that his writing should not be called a “manifesto,” as if to anticipate its potential appearance in public. The notes were among documents and drawings that jail officials seized from Roof’s cell in August 2015, several weeks after the shooting at Charleston’s historic Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Some of the materials were benign, even darkly humorous. On a list of his favorite movies, which included “The Notebook” and “Pride and Prejudice,” Roof included “12 Years a Slave.”
“Even though it is antiwhite and unrealistic,” Roof wrote, “the cinematography is beautiful.”
Roof has largely remained quiet in court and not questioned any witnesses, although his writings have offered jurors and the public a window into who he is. Earlier in the day, a judge unsealed a filing in which Roof alleged it was “not fair” for prosecutors to present such extensive testimony about the effect of his church shooting on victims’ family members. He argued — because he was not presenting any evidence — that it would virtually ensure a death sentence.
“If I don’t present any mitigation evidence, the victim-impact evidence will take over the whole sentencing trial and guarantee that I get the death penalty,” Roof wrote.
Prosecutors had spent the day eliciting emotional stories from the loved ones of those slain. Roof, apparently irked, wrote in a filing that the court should take more breaks because of the emotional nature of the testimony, and he alleged that an assistant U.S. attorney inappropriately questioned one witness until she was “crumpled in her seat and sobbing loudly.”
U.S. District Judge Richard M. Gergel disagreed with some of Roof’s characterizations of the proceedings and ultimately did not impose any limits on testimony. But he warned prosecutors he was worried about the issue. “I’m concerned both about the number of witnesses and the length of their testimony and the length collectively of their testimony, and I want you to revisit your strategy here, because at some point I’m going to cut you off if it gets too long,” he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson insisted the government was acting appropriately.
“It is also, I think, important that the government and these individuals are allowed to tell the stories of their loved ones,” he said.
Roof, 22, was convicted last month of federal hate crimes for killing nine people in a June 2015 rampage at the Mother Emanuel church. He has said the massacre was racially motivated, and prosecutors previewed his jailhouse writings in their opening statement Wednesday.
Until the journal was revealed, Thursday’s proceedings were focused exclusively on the victims.
Denise Quarles, victim Myra Thompson’s daughter, spoke Thursday of how her mother was her confidante and role model. Not long before the shooting Quarles remembered her mom telling her, “I just want you to know, if I never told you before, that I’m proud of you.”
“She taught me what being a woman is, how to be a mom, how to be a grandparent, how to be a friend, how to treat people,” Quarles said as she started to cry.
Rita Whidbee, a longtime friend of victim Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, told jurors how Coleman-Singleton planned Whidbee’s wedding based on the simple instruction, “I want to be a princess,” and perfected every detail down to the horse-drawn carriage. When it came time for the honeymoon, Whidbee said, Coleman-Singleton tagged along.
“Sharonda was everything any friend could ever want,” Whidbee said.
Bethane Middleton, the sister of victim DePayne Middleton-Doctor, said of her sibling: “She protected me, and she guided me.”
Daniel Simmons Jr., the son of another victim, the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., said after the shooting, he wondered why his father — who would bring his concealed-carry gun to church — hadn’t stopped the shooting. Then he got his father’s car back and saw the gun on the front seat.
“Apparently he had took it off before he went into church,” Simmons said, sniffling.
Roof is representing himself at the trial, having fired his attorneys before the penalty phase began. He said in an opening statement he did so because he did not want them to offer evidence that he had psychological problems, and he insisted he had none.
“The point is that I’m not going to lie to you, either by myself or through anyone else,” Roof said.
Roof raised a few oral objections to pieces of evidence in court, explaining in a court filing that constant interruptions might prejudice the jury. His motion — which David Bruck, Roof’s standby attorney, said he helped draft — was typed, and it asked the judge to limit the number of victim-impact witnesses that can be called and the way they can be questioned.
Bruck told the judge that he agreed with Roof’s request and asked that he be allowed to object on Roof’s behalf. Gergel rejected that request, too, noting that Roof had disregarded his earlier warning not to fire his lawyers.
Prosecutors have indicated that they could call as many as 38 witnesses, although Richardson said Thursday the final figure will probably be less. Although Roof has not presented any evidence, Gergel told jurors they could consider his confession in the case, his offer to plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence and the possibility that he could change as factors in favor of a life sentence.