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Dylann Roof sentenced to die

On Tue, Jan. 10, a jury sentenced Dylann Roof to death for the white supremacy-motivated murder of nine people in Charleston, S.C., in June 2015.

The same jury had found Roof, 22, guilty of 33 hate crimes charges a month earlier. The sentencing portion of the trial began on Jan. 3 and lasted a week, during which survivors of the massacre and family members of victims provided emotional testimony. The family of Cynthia Graham Hurd recalled her love of books and her motto “be kinder than necessary.” Ethel Lance was remembered by her daughter as a matriarch who had united her family. Law enforcement officials also testified for the prosecution.

On Jan. 10, federal prosecutor Jay Richardson argued for two hours in favor of the death penalty for Roof for his hate crimes. The jurors, who were made up of nine white people and three black people, needed to reach a unanimous decision in order to impose the death sentence. They deliberated for about three hours before sentencing Roof.

On June 17, 2015, Roof sat among the worshippers at a Bible study in the basement of Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the oldest such congregation in the Deep South and one with a history of activism and advocacy for civil rights. After about 40 minutes, Roof opened fire with a semiautomatic handgun, killing nine of the 12 people present. Those killed included the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, who was the youngest African-American elected to South Carolina’s legislature; and Susie Jackson, an 87-year-old grandmother.

Roof told his youngest victim, 26-year-old Tywanza Sanders, that he was shooting because “you blacks are killing white people on the streets every day and raping white women every day.” He told Polly Shepherd, one of the survivors, that she was spared so that she could “tell the story.”

Dylann Roof had been radicalized by white supremacist websites and online forums such as the Council of Conservative Citizens and Stormfront.org. He had been active on these sites for about three years preceding the shooting, according to a manifesto found shortly after his arrest.

The manifesto clearly outlines Roof’s radically hateful and ignorant views, and appears to repeat the racist falsehoods that he found in this online community. It explains in great detail his belief that movements toward racial equality have harmed society and concludes by saying that Roof felt he had “no choice” but to commit the massacre because “someone has to have the bravery to take it into the real world” and offline. During his confession following his arrest, Roof told authorities that he had been trying to start a “race war.”

Roof insisted that he represent himself during the sentencing phase of his trial. He did not want his capital defense team to discuss his mental health — at least two psychiatric evaluations have been conducted since his arrest, and their results are not available to the public — or his family or educational background. The day his sentence was imposed, Roof delivered a rambling, five-minute closing statement to the jury during which he told them, “Anyone, including the prosecution, who thinks I am filled with hate has no idea what real hate is,” and “I think it’s safe to say that someone in their right mind wouldn’t go into a church and kill people.” He reminded the jurors that the decision to sentence him to death needed to be unanimous.

Following the decision, family members of the victims reacted in a press conference. “It’s hard to say that this person deserves to live when [the] other nine didn’t,” said Cynthia Graham Hurd’s brother, Melvin Graham. Ethel Lance’s daughter, the Rev. Sharon Risher, said that she was deeply opposed to the death penalty but that Roof has challenged her stance during the ordeal because of his lack of remorse and because he “continues to be evil.”

Others around the country who oppose the death sentence still disagree with the court’s decision. An editorial published in the Washington Post on Jan. 4, titled “Even Dylann Roof should not receive a death sentence,” stated that “the practice of killing human beings, even with all the due process in the world, is also in tension with the inherent dignity Americans should ascribe to human life.”

Dylann Roof was formally sentenced to death the day after the decision. He has until Wed, Jan. 25 to appeal.

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