Dy­lann Roof’s last act

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - OPINION - Kath­leen Parker Colum­nist Kath­leen Parker’s email ad­dress is kath­leen­parker@ wash­post.com. Kath­leen Parker

If Death lingers in court­room cor­ri­dors await­ing sen­tences, this his­toric city’s fed­eral court­house was surely a top des­ti­na­tion. On Tues­day, the Reaper’s pa­tience was re­warded with the jury’s re­turn of the death penalty for Dy­lann Roof.

Roof, who in­sisted on rep­re­sent­ing him­self dur­ing the sen­tenc­ing phase of his 33-count mur­der trial, was found guilty last month for the slaugh­ter of nine black parish­ioners at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in June 2015.

Roof’s self-lawyer­ing is still mys­ti­fy­ing when he had at his dis­posal one of the na­tion’s best death-penalty lawyers, David Bruck, who did rep­re­sent Roof dur­ing the guilt phase that ended last month. Bruck was al­lowed only to ad­vise Roof dur­ing the penalty phase, which be­gan last week, but briefly ad­dressed the judge Tues­day when Roof re­quested that Bruck ad­dress ob­jec­tions.

While the gov­ern­ment’s case seemed air­tight in cov­er­ing all the re­quire­ments for the death penalty, Roof’s re­marks Tues­day took fewer than five min­utes.

Wear­ing slacks and a blue cable-knit sweater — his bowl-cut hair ob­vi­ously re­cently shaped — Roof ap­proached the lectern with a sin­gle, yel­low, let­ter-sized sheet of pa­per for his clos­ing ar­gu­ment. Barely au­di­ble — and his pauses were longer than his sen­tences — he made es­sen­tially two sug­ges­tions seem­ingly aimed at cre­at­ing doubt about his al­leged ha­tred of black peo­ple and his in­tent in car­ry­ing out his mis­sion, which he him­self pre­vi­ously iden­ti­fied as want­ing to in­cite racial vi­o­lence. Clar­ity isn’t his strong suit. Next, Roof chal­lenged the pros­e­cu­tion’s claim that he’s filled with ha­tred, one of the statu­tory-re­quired ag­gra­vat­ing fac­tors in cap­i­tal cases. He re­ferred to his con­fes­sion when an FBI agent asked him if he hated blacks. Roof’s re­ply was, “I don’t like what black peo­ple do.”

To the jury, he posited: “If I was re­ally filled with as much hate as I al­legedly am, wouldn’t I just say, ‘Yes, I hate black peo­ple’?”

Fi­nally, Roof said it’s fair to say that the prose­cu­tors hate him since they’re seek­ing the death penalty. Then he tu­tored the court that peo­ple hate be­cause they’ve been mis­led. He also said that peo­ple think they know what ha­tred it is, but “they don’t know what real ha­tred looks like.”

Does Roof? Is this be­cause some hate-filled per­son mis­led him? Or did he merely look in the mir­ror?

Not once dur­ing his very brief re­marks did Roof say they he re­gret­ted his ac­tions, which might have elicited some em­pa­thy from those bur­dened with de­ter­min­ing his fate. In­deed, in a jail­house journal, he wrote that he isn’t sorry and that he hadn’t shed a tear for the “in­no­cent peo­ple I killed.”

Tues­day, as he at­tempted to take on a battery of lawyers hell-bent on ultimate jus­tice, he seemed ever the evil child who, rather than ac­knowl­edg­ing the hor­ror and the agony of what he did, was some­how above the process.

The crime was heinous and the trial heart-wrench­ing. At one point dur­ing the fa­ther’s tes­ti­mony, the judge had to call for a break be­cause nearly ev­ery­one in the court­room, in­clud­ing the media, was weep­ing. The fa­ther had been talk­ing about his 3-year-old’s fa­vorite Dis­ney movie, which the child called, “One-o-one Dalma-hay-tions.”

Su­san Smith threw her­self across the de­fense ta­ble, loudly sob­bing with the agony of re­gret and the sorrow of in­con­solable loss. Yes, she was re­spon­si­ble for her chil­dren’s death, but there was no ques­tion­ing her re­morse or doubt­ing that her life in prison would be an end­less night of pierc­ing pain.

For death penalty op­po­nents like me, this seemed a far more just end than death would have been. With Roof, there’s plainly no sense of sorrow now — or to come. In the end ev­i­dence of sin­cere re­morse, which is to say, hu­man­ity, can be the dif­fer­ence be­tween life and death.

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