Dylann Roof is sentenced to death in charleston church massacre

News Hour:

Dylann S. Roof, the unrepentant and inscrutable white supremacist who killed nine African-American churchgoers in a brazen racial rampage almost 19 months ago, an outburst of extremist violence that shocked the nation, was condemned to death by a federal jury on Tuesday.

The jury of nine whites and three blacks, who last month found Mr. Roof guilty of 33 counts for the attack at this city’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, returned their unanimous verdict after about three hours of deliberations in the penalty phase of a heart-rending and often legally confounding trial.

Mr. Roof, who had said in a closing argument hours earlier that he could ask jurors “to give me a life sentence, but I’m not sure what good that would do,” showed no expression as Judge Richard M. Gergel of Federal District Court announced the verdict.

Melvin Graham, whose sister Cynthia Hurd, 54, a librarian, died in the attack, welcomed the decision.

“It’s a hard thing to know that someone is going to lose their life, but when you look at the totality of what happened, it’s hard to say that person deserves to live when nine others don’t,” Mr. Graham said at a news conference. “How do you justify saving one life when you took nine, and in such a brutal fashion?”

The Rev. Anthony B. Thompson, the widower of another victim, Myra Thompson, said in an interview on Tuesday that while he remained “in awe” at how much Mr. Roof enjoyed doing what he did, he would not relinquish his forgiveness. “I forgave him, and I’m not going to take that back ever,” he said.

Members of Mr. Roof’s family, who have been mostly silent since his arrest, said in a statement on Tuesday that they would “struggle as long as we live to understand why he committed this horrible attack, which caused so much pain to so many good people.”

The jury’s decision offered some vindication for the Justice Department, which sought the death penalty over the misgivings of the attack’s adult survivors and the relatives of many victims. During a two-hour closing argument on Tuesday, Julius N. Richardson, an assistant United States attorney, urged jurors to “hold this defendant fully accountable for his crimes.”

The guilt of Mr. Roof, who coolly confessed to the killings and then justified them without remorse in a jailhouse manifesto, was never in serious doubt during the first phase of the proceedings in December. And by the time jurors began their sentencing deliberations on Tuesday, it seemed inevitable that they would lean toward death, not only because of the heinous nature of the crimes but because Mr. Roof, 22, insisted on denying any psychological incapacity, called no witnesses, presented no evidence in his defense and mostly sidelined his court-appointed lawyers.

The jury’s sentencing decision effectively capped Mr. Roof’s federal trial for the killings on June 17, 2015, the Wednesday when he showed up in Emanuel’s fellowship hall and was offered a seat for Bible study by the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney. Mr. Roof sat quietly, his head hung low, for about 40 minutes while the group considered the Gospel of Mark’s account of the Parable of the Sower.

Then, with the parishioners’ eyes clenched for a benediction, Mr. Roof brandished the .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun he had smuggled into the church in a waist pouch. First taking aim at Mr. Pinckney, a state senator and the youngest African-American elected to South Carolina’s legislature, he began to fire seven magazines of hollow-point rounds.

The reverberation of gunfire and clinking of skittering shell casings subsided only after more than 70 shots. Each victim was hit repeatedly, with the eldest, Susie Jackson, an 87-year-old grandmother and church matriarch, struck at least 10 times.

During the brief siege, the youngest victim, Tywanza Sanders, 26, pleaded with Mr. Roof not to kill. “You blacks are killing white people on the streets everyday and raping white women everyday,” Mr. Roof said during the rampage, according to the jailhouse manifesto written within seven weeks of his arrest.

Before leaving the church, Mr. Roof told one of three survivors, Polly Sheppard, that he was sparing her so she could “tell the story.” He stepped over one minister’s bleeding body on his way out a side door, Glock pistol at his side. The killer said later that he had expected to find officers waiting for him and had saved ammunition to take his own life.

But the police, alerted by 911 calls from Ms. Sheppard and Mr. Pinckney’s wife, Jennifer, who was hiding with their 6-year-old daughter, had not yet arrived. Mr. Roof got into his black Hyundai Elantra and drove into the night.

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