An admitted white supremacist was sentenced to death Tuesday for massacring nine black worshipers who’d invited him to study the Bible with them at a Charleston, S.C., church, ending a two-phase federal trial that exposed the killer’s hate-fueled motives and plumbed the chasms of grief left by the victims’ deaths.
The jury, the same that convicted Dylann Roof in the murders last month, announced its verdict after deliberating less than three hours.
Roof, 22, who represented himself in the penalty phase, did very little to persuade the panel to spare his life. He declined to present any witnesses or evidence, blocked standby defense lawyers’ attempts to raise questions about his mental health, and suggested in his closing statement that arguing for life in prison wasn’t worth the effort.
Roof now becomes the 63rd person on federal death row, and the first to be put there since Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was convicted in 2015.
Nevertheless, it will likely be years before he is put to death; the federal government has put executions on hold out of concerns about lethal injection drugs, and appeals could put off the date even further. The last federal execution took place in 2003.
And Roof still faces a second trial, by the state of South Carolina, where he also faces the death penalty. The date of that trial has not been determined.
From the start of the trial, Roof’s guilt was hardly in doubt.
It took the 12-person jury a little over two hours to convict Roof last month on all 33 counts, including two dozen that fall under federal hate crime statutes.
During that phase of the trial, defense lawyer David Bruck put no witnesses on the stand and raised no objections when prosecutors played Roof’s videotaped confession to the FBI, which was made following his arrest. In it, Roof admitted he was guilty and that the motive was to spark a race war. He told the FBI men he was surprised he was able to kill as many people as he did with his .45-caliber Glock pistol.