CHARLESTON, S.C. – Standing before a federal jury that will decide whether he will live or die, Dylann Storm Roof gave a halting and cryptic closing argument Tuesday suggesting that the prosecution “hates me” and that his murders of nine black parishioners at a Bible study meeting in 2015 was not motivated by hatred of black people.
“Anyone that thinks I’m filled with hatred has no idea what real hatred is,” said Roof, 22, a self-described white supremacist who has said he hoped his high-profile killings would incite a race war in America. “They don’t know anything about me. They don’t know what real hatred looks like. They think they do, but they don’t.”
“I would say that in this case, the prosecution and anyone else who hates me, are the ones that have been misled,” Roof said in a soft voice, standing before the eight women and four men who, shortly after, were to begin deliberating whether he will be sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
“Wouldn’t it be fair to say that the prosecution hates me?” Roof said, noting that prosecutors were seeking the death penalty.
Roof told the jury they might think, ” ‘Of course they hate you; everyone hates you. They have good reason to hate you.’ I don’t deny it.”
Roof, who was convicted of 33 counts of federal hate crimes by the same jury last month, for the first time also seemed to obliquely raise the possibility that some emotional or mental condition may have led to his killing spree. Previously, Roof had clashed with his court-appointed attorneys who wanted to introduce evidence of mental illness.
“Um, I think it’s safe to say that no one in their right mind wants to go into a church and kill people,” said Roof, wearing a light blue cable-knit sweater and gray khakis, at the start of his seven-minute closing argument.
Roof pointed out to the jury that in his confession to the FBI, “I told them I had to do it. . . . Obviously that’s not true. Nobody made me do it.”
Without directly explaining his meaning, Roof then said, “I felt like I had to do it, and I still feel like I had to do it.”
Roof also noted that he had a right to ask the jury to spare his life, but “I’m not sure what good that would do.”
Roof said FBI officials in his interrogation asked him, “So is it safe to say that you don’t like black people?”
“My response to them was, ‘Well, I don’t like what black people do,’ ” he said.
If he hated black people, Roof said, “wouldn’t I have just said, ‘Yes, I don’t like black people’?”
He noted that imposition of the death penalty required a unanimous decision by the jury.
“Only one of you needs to disagree,” he said, noting that each of them has said during jury selection that they would stand up for what they thought was right.
With that, Roof paused, looked up and said:
“That’s all, thank you.”
Roof’s closing statement followed a detailed two-hour closing argument by prosecutor Jay Richardson, who recapped the facts of the case, which have been uncontested by Roof.
Roof’s guilt was never in doubt; he admitted to FBI interrogators that he had planned for months to kill black worshipers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, known as Mother Emanuel, because of the church’s historic significance in the black community – he said it would “make the biggest wave” and hopefully inspire other white people to kill black people.
The only question was whether Roof, a ninth-grade dropout, would be sentenced to death or to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Roof seemed to all but guarantee his fate by choosing to fire his court-appointed lawyers – including a respected death penalty specialist – and represent himself during the penalty phase of the trial.
Richardson told the jury how Roof had planned the shootings for months and had become a radicalized racist online in recent years – especially since the killing of black Florida teenager Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, a white man.
“He feels no remorse because it was worth it to him,” Richardson said.
Richardson displayed photos of all nine victims, who ranged in age from 26 to 87 – contrasting photos of them smiling in life and lying crumpled and bloody on a church basement floor after being shot by Roof.
Richardson also noted that Roof considered Adolf Hitler “an icon, someone to be emulated,” and even loaded 88 bullets into his gun’s magazines – a common white supremacist symbol: H is the eighth letter of the alphabet, and 88 represents “Heil Hitler.”
Richardson urged the jury to “speak the truth and hold this defendant accountable for his actions. Sentence this defendant to death.”
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Kevin Sullivan