Death penalty A fed­eral jury took less than three hours to de­cide Dy­lann Roof’s fate.

Of the nine killings, de­fen­dant says, ‘I still feel like I had to do it.’

The Washington Post - - REPUBLICANS SCRAMBLE TO EASE CONCERNS ABOUT WHAT R - BY KEVIN SUL­LI­VAN kevin.sul­li­van@wash­post.com Dustin Wa­ters in Charleston con­trib­uted to this re­port.

charleston, s.c. — Dy­lann Storm Roof, the avowed white su­prem­a­cist whose slaugh­ter of nine black parish­ioners at a church­base­ment Bi­ble study re­vulsed the na­tion, was sen­tenced to death to­day by a fed­eral jury that took just three hours to reach its de­ci­sion.

“We voted unan­i­mously that the de­fen­dant shall be sen­tenced to death,” said Judge Richard M. Gergel, read­ing the jury’s de­ci­sion to Roof, 22, a man who found in­spi­ra­tion in Adolf Hitler and a ca­ma­raderie of hate in an In­ter­net com­mu­nity of like-minded racists.

A wisp of a man in an ill-fit­ting blue sweater and gray khaki pants, Roof stood im­pas­sively at the de­fense ta­ble as Gergel spoke, fid­dling with pa­pers at his fin­ger­tips.

The man whose ram­page with a Glock .45-cal­iber pis­tol and 88 bul­lets — a num­ber cho­sen for its con­nec­tion with Hitler among white su­prem­a­cists — was in­tended to start a race war in Amer­ica said noth­ing.

Sit­ting among dozens of fam­ily mem­bers of the vic­tims, the Rev. Sharon Risher said she “felt like my heart was go­ing to pop.”

Risher, whose mother, Ethel Lance, was killed, said she had been am­biva­lent about the death penalty but had re­signed her­self to ac­cept what­ever de­ci­sion the jury made.

“But now that they have said he will get the death penalty, I feel that they have given him what he de­serves,” she said. “It is well with my soul.”

Her daugh­ter, Aja’ Risher, said in a tear­ful tele­phone in­ter­view that the ver­dict hit her hard.

“I didn’t think the ver­dict would af­fect me the way it has; I haven’t stopped cry­ing,” she said. “But I’m so happy that their lives mat­ter. It’s not just a ter­ri­ble tragedy that hap­pened. It re­news my faith a lit­tle bit.”

“Justice was served,” said Kevin Sin­gle­ton, whose mother, Myra Thomp­son, was killed. “It still doesn’t change any­thing for the fam­i­lies, but I hope it can be a de­ter­rent in the fu­ture.”

Ear­lier in the day, stand­ing be­fore the same jury that con­victed him last month on all 33 counts of fed­eral hate crimes that he faced, Roof said, “I still feel like I had to do it.”

Through­out Roof’s trial, it has been dif­fi­cult to know if Roof cares whether he lives or dies. He mounted vir­tu­ally no de­fense and ad­mit­ted to the crimes in the guilt phase of the trial. In the penalty phase, which be­gan last week, Roof fired his court-ap­pointed at­tor­neys, in­clud­ing a noted death penalty spe­cial­ist, and chose to rep­re­sent him­self — a move that most le­gal ex­perts re­gard as ex­tremely dan­ger­ous for any de­fen­dant.

In a halt­ing and cryptic clos­ing ar­gu­ment on Tues­day, Roof told the jury he had a right to ask them to spare his life, but “I’m not sure what good that would do.”

But he also seemed to of­fer the jury a strat­egy to keep him from be­ing ex­e­cuted. He noted that im­po­si­tion of the death penalty re­quired a unan­i­mous de­ci­sion by the jury.

“Only one of you needs to dis­agree,” he said, in a soft voice.

Roof for the first time also seemed to obliquely raise the pos­si­bil­ity that some emo­tional or mental con­di­tion may have con­trib­uted to his killing ram­page. 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 at the start of his sev­en­minute 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 fully ex­plain­ing his mean­ing, Roof also said the pros­e­cu­tion “hates me” and that his mur­der of the nine parish­ioners, ages 26 to 87, was not mo­ti­vated by ha­tred of black peo­ple.

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 the 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 whites 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.

At­tor­ney Gen­eral Loretta E. Lynch, who had sought the death penalty for the fed­eral charges, said in a state­ment: “No ver­dict can bring back the nine we lost that day at Mother Emanuel. And no ver­dict can heal the wounds of the five church mem­bers who sur­vived the at­tack or the souls of those who lost loved ones to Roof’s cal­lous hand. But we hope that the com­ple­tion of the pros­e­cu­tion pro­vides the peo­ple of Charleston — and the peo­ple of our na­tion — with a mea­sure of clo­sure.”

Richard­son dis­played pho­tos of all nine vic­tims, con­trast­ing pho­tos of them smil­ing in life, and ly­ing crum­pled and bloody on a church base­ment floor af­ter be­ing shot by Roof.

Richard­son called them all “the best among us,” peo­ple who had been min­is­ters and care­givers, teach­ers, coaches, par­ents and grand­par­ents. He read each vic­tim’s name and spoke of the loss felt by their loved ones.

Of one, he said: “Never again will some­one hear live that an­gelic voice singing ‘How Great Thou Art.’ ”

Of an­other: “He no longer has a mother to come home to.”

Through a spokes­woman, Roof’s fam­ily re­leased a state­ment that read, “We will al­ways love Dy­lann. We will strug­gle as long as we live to un­der­stand why he com­mit­ted this hor­ri­ble at­tack, which caused so much pain to so many good peo­ple. We wish to ex­press the grief we feel for the vic­tims of his crimes, and our sym­pa­thy to the many fam­i­lies he has hurt. We con­tinue to pray for the Emanuel AME fam­i­lies and the Charleston com­mu­nity.”

Roof is now the 60th per­son on fed­eral death row, but when or whether that sen­tence will ever be car­ried out re­mained un­clear. The Justice Depart­ment has ex­e­cuted only three in­mates since 1988, and the lat­est was in 2003.

Roof also faces a state mur­der trial that also car­ries a po­ten­tial death penalty. No trial date has been sched­uled.

CHUCK BUR­TON/ASSOCIATED PRESS

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