By Sheryl Estrada
A Charleston, S.C., jury on Thursday found Dylann Roof guilty on all 33 counts of federal hate crimes.
Roof murdered nine Black men and women and attempted to kill three others during Bible study in the basement of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal, a historic church, on June 17, 2015.
The 12 jurors deliberated for a little less than two hours on Thursday, then rendered its verdict, which came after hearing six days of testimony.
“There were so many shots,” said Felicia Sanders, 59, one of three who survived the massacre.
Sanders was the first witness to testify at Roof’s federal death penalty trial.
“Seventy-seven shots in that room from someone we thought was looking for the Lord,” she said.
When the verdicts were read, Roof, 22, showed no emotion. The sentencing phase of the trial will begin January 3. The same jury will decide if Roof receives life in prison or the death penalty.
During the guilt phase of the trial the judge blocked defense attorneys from presenting evidence of Roof’s mental state, so they did not call any witnesses. But the defense did ask jurors to consider what factors had driven Roof to commit the crime and suggested he might be delusional.
Prosecutors dismissed the defense’s position during closing arguments and said Roof’s guilt had been proved “beyond any doubt, much less reasonable doubt.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams said, “He must be held accountable for each and every action he took inside that church. For every life he took.”
The hashtag #CharlestonShooting began trending on Twitter Thursday afternoon after the verdict was announced.
White Supremacy and the Confederate Flag
An avowed white supremacist, Roof has confessed he targeted the historic church because he knew Black people would be gathered there. He had previously researched Black churches and visited historic sites of slavery in South Carolina.
In a two-hour video confession following his arrest, Roof said he had killed five people to start a race war. He sounded surprised to learn nine parishioners died.
“Somebody had to do something because, you know, Black people are killing white people every day on the street, and they’re raping white women,” he said.
Asked if he had regrets, Roof said, “I’d say so, yes … I regret that I did it, a little bit.”
The killing of Black church members again brought the history of racism in the U.S. to the forefront. When online photos surfaced of Roof holding a Confederate flag and gun, and his car had a Confederate flag license plate, there were demands to take down the flag flying on South Carolina Capitol grounds for the last 50 years.
After much debate, the Confederate battle flag was removed from Capitol grounds on July 10, 2015.
One of the victims of the shooting was State Sen. Clementa C. Pinckney, who was also the pastor of the church. Pinckney, who took office in 1996, was the youngest Black person in South Carolina’s history to be elected to the state legislature. He was then elected to the state senate in 2000.
President Barack Obama gave a eulogy for Pinckney at the young senator’s funeral, which included an emotional rendition of the hymn “Amazing Grace.” Obama explained why the Confederate battle flag historically represents racial suppression and needed to be removed.
“For many, Black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation,” he said. “We see that now.”