After Closing Arguments, Jurors Deliberate In Charleston Shooter Death Penalty Case

Jan 10, 2017
Originally published on January 10, 2017 6:23 pm
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A Charleston, S.C., jury unanimously agreed this afternoon to sentence Dylann Roof to death. The same jury found him guilty last month of federal hate crimes for the shooting rampage that killed nine worshippers at a church bible study. South Carolina Public Radio's Alexandra Olgin has been in the courthouse, and she's with us now. Alexandra, what was it like when the death sentence was read aloud?

ALEXANDRA OLGIN, BYLINE: The courtroom was really full. There were a lot of victims' relatives and family and friends. It was so full; some were standing in the back. Some people were crying and embracing. It's been a very emotional and long trial.

Roof immediately asked the judge after the verdict was read to appoint him a new lawyer so he could file motion for a new trial. The judge said he was not inclined to do that because Roof knowingly sidelined his attorneys. But he'd be willing to hear him out.

MCEVERS: I mean Dylann Roof has been acting as his own attorney in this phase of the trial. And he did, I understand, address the jury for a few minutes today to deliver a closing argument. What did he say?

OLGIN: He spoke for just about 5 minutes. He said he felt like at the time he had to do it, and he still feels like that now. He said the prosecution and anyone else who hates him are the ones who have been misled and they don't really understand what hate is. And he reminded jurors that it only took one of them to disagree to give him a life sentence.

Now, that obviously didn't happen. They all agreed unanimously, and it only took them about three hours to come back the death penalty verdict. At the end of his closing arguments, he just turned his head to the judge and basically said, that's all I have.

MCEVERS: And what was the government's argument for the death penalty?

OLGIN: They laid out a series of factors. They said it was premeditated. Dylann Roof planned this attack for months. He scouted out the church. He intended to kill multiple people and incite violence. In his own words, he wrote in his writings that he wanted to start a race war. He targeted these black parishioners because of the color of their skin.

Prosecutors also said that Dylann Roof looked at Adolf Hitler as a saint, or he thought he would be a saint. And in his jailhouse writings, you know, the government said Roof showed no remorse. And finally, prosecutors said jurors should look at the impact on victims' families. They spent a lot of time going through very emotional testimony, hearing from family and friends about how much this has affected their lives.

MCEVERS: After this court proceeding, a family member of one of the victims spoke to the media. What did he have to say?

OLGIN: Melvin Graham's sister Cynthia was killed in the attack. Graham said he supported the death penalty in this case. He said, you know, how can you justify saving one life, referring to Roof, when he took nine in such a brutal fashion with no remorse?


MELVIN GRAHAM: He just took them away from us because he wanted to. He decided the day, the hour and the moment that my sister was going to die. And now someone's going to do the same for him.

OLGIN: Graham says that every time he hears about a mass shooting, it's really upsetting for him, and he just wants the killings to stop.

MCEVERS: This death sentence today is the end of a very emotional federal trial. What happens next?

OLGIN: The judge on Wednesday will formally sentence Dylann Roof, but he's bound by the jury's recommendation. And Dylann Roof still does have a pending state trial.

MCEVERS: That's South Carolina Public Radio's Alexandra Olgin. Thank you very much.

OLGIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.