Thursday, December 15, 2016

Dylann Roof convicted in Mother Emanuel murders

Jury finds Roof guilty of murders, hate crimes, religious obstruction

Posted by Sam Spence and Dustin Waters on Thu, Dec 15, 2016 at 3:27 PM

click to enlarge Roof's booking photo - CHARLESTON COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Charleston County Sheriff's Office
  • Roof's booking photo

The families of the victims looked on silently as Dylann Roof was declared guilty on all 33 counts of his federal indictment. Including charges for hate crimes for the murders at Emanuel AME Church, it took almost 20 minutes for each verdict to be read aloud — but less than two hours for the jury to arrive at a decision.

Assistant U.S. attorney Nathan Williams began his closing statement by describing an idyllic place of worship. A place of fellowship where old friends gather for a Wednesday night Bible study. A place where anyone was welcome to walk in. And according to Williams, hatred had no place in that sanctuary. But on the night of June 17, 2015, Williams said a cowardly man walked in to act upon the immense hatred in his heart.

During closing arguments in the federal trial of Dylann Roof, prosecutors recounted the lives lost in Emanuel AME Church. Portraits of each victim flashed across the screens in the courtroom, juxtaposed by images of their bodies as they lie dead on the church floor. After six days of testimony and 36 witnesses, Williams boiled the prosecution’s case down to three points: Roof’s manifesto, his preparation leading up the shooting, and his actions inside of the church.

With his handwritten journal and manifesto posted online, prosecutors say that Roof displayed a perceived a superiority of white race, a desire to incite a race war, and an insistence on violence. In his writings and his taped confession with FBI agents, Roof explained his hope to agitate race relations to the point that the nation returns to segregation, with white people as the dominant race. According to Williams, Roof holds up the dismal and shameful parts of the country’s past as ideal.

click to enlarge Courtroom sketch artist's depiction of the emotional first day in court for Dylann Roof - ROBERT MANISCALCO
  • Robert Maniscalco
  • Courtroom sketch artist's depiction of the emotional first day in court for Dylann Roof
Detailing the months of preparation that Roof put into planning his attack, the prosecution listed the multiple trips that he made to Mother Emanuel leading up to the shooting. Not only was a lengthy effort made to practice his skills as a marksman, but the lists of predominantly African-American churches found in Roof’s car shows that he underwent a long process in selecting his target.

On the night of the shooting, Williams says that Roof waited outside of Emanuel AME for almost 30 minutes, loading 88 rounds into multiple magazines. He spent another 40 minutes sitting with the parishioners before shooting Rev. Clementa Pinckney. Rev. Daniel Simmons rushed to check on his wounded pastor as Roof continued firing. The prosecution pointed to Simmons’ actions as a strong counterpoint to the cowardice the Roof demonstrated by attacking a church.

“There is no bravery in this defendant. There is no bravery in his actions,” Williams said. “But there is bravery in this case.”

Lead defense attorney David Bruck has never denied Roof’s guilt in the shootings at Mother Emanuel. He has only called on the jury to take into deep consideration what led to his actions. Bruck opened his closing statements by apologizing to the jury for his quiet courtroom demeanor, but it is Roof’s insistence to represent himself during the next phase of the trial that will silence Bruck.

As jurors prepared to deliberate on Roof’s guilt, Bruck attempted to turn their attention to the sentencing phase of the trial. If found guilty, the 22-year-old faces the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. During closing statements, Bruck attempted to introduce the idea that Roof suffers from mental issues, but the attorney could not overcome a sea of objections from the prosecution. After the verdict was handed down, Roof confirmed once again that he wishes to represent himself during the penalty phase of the trial. The trial will resume Jan. 3, 2017.

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