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Dylann Roof Sentenced To Death

Dylann Roof appears via video before a judge, in Charleston, S.C., on June 19, 2015.
Dylann Roof appears via video before a judge, in Charleston, S.C., on June 19, 2015.

Updated at 6:55 p.m. ET

A jury has sentenced to death the man who murdered nine people in a Charleston church basement in 2015.

The twelve jurors deliberated for about three hours before sentencing Dylann Roof, 22, to die. To impose the death penalty, they had to reach a unanimous decision.

It is the same jury that found Roof guilty of federal hate crimes charges for entering Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015 and sitting among those at a Bible study in the basement before opening fire on the worshippers.

The sentencing portion of the trial began Jan. 3 and ended on Tuesday. Survivors, family members of those killed and law enforcement officials testified for the prosecution about Roof's crime, the lives he cut short and his apparent motives.

Family members of Cynthia Graham Hurd, one of the victims, talked about Hurd's love of books, which led to her work as a librarian, reported Charleston's Post and Courier newspaper.

After the sentence was announced, Hurd's brother Melvin Graham told reporters outside the courthouse "It's a hard to say that this person deserves to live when [the] other nine don't," tweeted Post and Courier reporter Abigail Darlington.

"He was radicalized," Graham continued.

Another victim, Ethel Lance, was remembered as the matriarch of her family.

The Post and Courier reported:

"The oldest of Lance's children, the Rev. Sharon Risher, held up her hands in the witness stand and pretended to rip apart a piece of fabric representing her family.

" 'Nobody is there to keep us together, to keep the pieces together. Now we have tattered pieces,' Risher said tearfully. 'And I know that would devastate her.' "

FBI Special Agent Joseph Hamski, who led the federal investigation, told the jury that Roof had an account on the white supremacist website Stormfront.org under the username "LilAryan" and posted messages in the months before the massacre, looking for other local people who shared his views, the paper reported.

In his closing argument, which lasted about two hours according to South Carolina Public Radio's Alexandra Olgin, prosecutor Jay Richardson argued that Roof deserved to die for his crime because he planned a deadly race-based attack in an attempt to incite further violence and had shown no remorse.

Roof, who acted as his own attorney during the sentencing portion of the trial, called no witnesses and did not testify. He gave a brief opening statement, as we reported:

"He said it's 'absolutely true' that he chose to represent himself so that his lawyers would not present evidence of mental illness.

" 'The point is I'm not going to lie to you,' Roof said. 'There's nothing wrong with me psychologically.' "

In a rambling, five-minute closing statement on Tuesday — his last chance to address jurors before they decided whether to sentence him to die — Roof spoke about hatred.

As the Post and Courier reported from inside the courtroom:

" 'Anyone, including the prosecution, who thinks I am filled with hate has no idea what real hate is,' Roof said, speaking to jurors from a podium about eight feet from the jury box during his closing argument. 'They don't know anything about hate.' ...

" 'They don't know what real real hatred looks like,' [Roof said]. 'They think they do, but they don't really.' ...

" 'I think it's safe to say that someone in their right mind wouldn't go into a church and kill people,' he said. 'You might remember in my confession to the FBI I told them I had to do it. Obviously, that isn't true because I didn't have to do it. I didn't have to do anything. But what I meant when I said that was I felt like I had to do that.' ...

" 'Wouldn't it be fair to say that the prosecution hates me since they are the ones trying to give me the death penalty?' he said. 'You could say, "Of course they hate you. Everyone hates you. They have good reason to hate you." I'm not denying that. My point is that anyone who hates anything, in their mind, has a good reason.' "

He ended by reminding jurors that they had each agreed to stand up for their opinions during deliberations, as Olgin reported, and that a death sentence would require a unanimous decision.

Roof is facing separate murder charges brought by the state of South Carolina, which is also seeking the death penalty. A previous version of this article stated that trial was scheduled to begin Jan. 17, but it has been postponed due to uncertainty that the federal trial would not be completed in time.

After the death sentence was announced Tuesday, Roof's defense team released a statement suggesting Roof intends to appeal the sentence, saying "Today's sentencing decision means that this case will not be over for a very long time. We are sorry that, despite our best efforts, the legal proceedings have shed so little light on the reasons for this tragedy."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rebecca Hersher (she/her) is a reporter on NPR's Science Desk, where she reports on outbreaks, natural disasters, and environmental and health research. Since coming to NPR in 2011, she has covered the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, embedded with the Afghan army after the American combat mission ended, and reported on floods and hurricanes in the U.S. She's also reported on research about puppies. Before her work on the Science Desk, she was a producer for NPR's Weekend All Things Considered in Los Angeles.

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