CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Dylann Roof was convicted Thursday of last year’s grisly massacre at a historic black church that left nine parishioners slain at a Bible study. A federal jury found Roof guilty of all 33 counts, including hate crimes and obstruction of religion. Jurors took less than two hours to reach their verdict.
Here’s what has happened and what to expect.
LIFE OR DEATH
After a break for the holidays, jurors will reconvene Jan. 3 to hear more testimony and decide whether Roof gets the death penalty or life in prison for the June 2015 slaughter at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
The defense put up no witnesses during the seven-day trial. They tried to present evidence about Roof’s mental state, but U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel ruled that had nothing to do with Roof’s guilt or innocence.
Roof told the judge again Thursday he wants to act as his own attorney during the penalty phase.
Prosecutors say Roof wanted to start a race war. His two-hour confession to the FBI, about 17 hours after the shootings, seemed key to jurors’ deliberation. One hour in, they asked to rehear the videotaped confession.
Roof also documented his hate in his journal, found in his car when he was arrested.
Roof believed segregation needed to return to keep white people from falling to the level of blacks. It had other bogus claims that whites were naturally the superior race and that blacks liked slavery.
Testimony in the case opened and closed with two of the massacre’s survivors.
Polly Sheppard said Roof told her he wanted to leave her alive to tell the world why he attacked a historic African-American church.
“I have to. I have to,” Sheppard recalled Roof telling her. “You’re raping our women and taking over the nation.”
Her 911 call was the final evidence jurors heard.
In closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams mocked Roof for calling himself brave in his hate-filled journal and during his confession. Williams said the real bravery came from the victims who tried to stop him as he fired 77 bullets.
His 50-minute closing argument filled the court with tension. At times, the prosecutor raised his voice, saying Roof was a cold, calculated killer. Some family members of victims dabbed their eyes with tissues, and jurors appeared emotional when Williams, after apologizing to them, showed crime scene photos of each person killed alongside a small picture of them while alive.
Defense lawyer David Bruck conceded Roof committed the slayings, but he asked jurors to look into his head and see what caused him to become so full of hatred, calling him a suicidal loner who never grasped the gravity of what he did.
Roof was just imitating what he saw on the internet and believed he had to give his life to “a fight to the death between white people and black people that only he” could see and act on, Bruck said.
The trial opened with testimony from Felicia Sanders, one of the three survivors, telling the jury she swished her legs in the blood of her dead aunt and dying son so Roof would think she was dead.
Sanders’ 11-year-old granddaughter also survived. Sanders said she held the girl so tight so she wouldn’t scream that she thought she might suffocate her.
“He said he was going to kill himself,” Sanders said. “I was counting on that. There’s no place on Earth for him other than the pit of hell.”
Testimony from survivor Polly Sheppard closed the prosecution’s case. Sheppard called 911 shortly after Roof opened fire. The heart-wrenching call was played for jurors. It started with a prayer and a plea for help: “Please answer. Oh, God.”
Meanwhile, Roof’s mother was in the audience for opening statements. She collapsed as court adjourned for a break, and defense lawyers said she suffered a heart attack.
ANOTHER TRIAL NEXT YEAR
Roof faces a second death-penalty trial early next year in state court, where he faces nine counts of murder. A state judge is ordering 600 prospective jurors to report to the Charleston County Courthouse on Jan. 17 for initial screening. His order says the trial will begin on or after Jan. 30. It’s not clear when the federal case will wrap up. For now, Roof has attorneys representing him in the state case.