CHARLESTON, S.C. (CN) – A federal jury convicted Dylann Roof on Thursday of all 33 federal charges he faced for shooting nine parishioners to death and wounding three others at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
Roof stood still and looked straight ahead as the verdict was read.
It took the jury just two hours to convict Roof of the June 17, 2015, shooting. The jury will return on January 3, 2017, to decide whether he will receive the death penalty.
After the verdict was announced, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel told Roof he should seriously reconsider his decision to represent himself during the sentencing phase of the trial.
Roof had previously said he wanted to represent himself.
When asked if he wants to continue to exercise his right to represent himself in the courtroom in January, Roof said, “I do.”
Gergel said he will allow Roof to change his mind up to Jan 3; after that, the judge said, he’ll be stuck with his decision.
The prosecution and defense presented their closing arguments Thursday morning, the government eliciting gasps from the courtroom as it displayed graphic crime scene photos not previously shown to the jury. The defense countered by arguing Roof is mentally ill.
“That church was a sanctuary because these good people created a sanctuary,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jay Richardson said of the Emanuel AME Church, called “Mother Emanuel” because it is oldest black church in the south.
The prosecutor then went on to suggest that while Roof believed he was being brave, his actions demonstrated his cowardliness.
“He was scouting that location, finding the most vulnerable location and the most vulnerable people that he could. He found the soft spot of the church, it was place where people are trusting, there are no cameras inside or armed guards,” Richardson said.
He said Roof sat with his victims and prayed with them for 45 minutes, but he was just waiting to shoot them. Then, at their most vulnerable moment, when their eyes were closed, he pulled out his gun and began shooting them.
“He shot the most vulnerable one, 87-year-old Susie Jackson, who used a cane to help her walk — he shot her 10 or 11 times,” Richardson said.
He then went on to describe the individual acts of bravery that occurred in the waning moments of the murder victims’ lives.
Recalling the accounts of two of the survivors of the massacre, Richardson reminded the jury that the Rev. Dan Simmons ran toward the gunman after the shooting began, apparently seeking to stop him. He also spoke of victim Tywanza Sanders providing a distraction that saved the lives of others, and of Felicia Sanders, one of the three survivors, who put herself between her granddaughter and the bullets.
As Richardson spoke, photos of the victims are superimposed above images of their bodies lying on the ground.
The most graphic of all was one that showed Tywanza Sanders reaching out to another victim, Susie Jackson, who was his aunt.
It was Tywanza Sanders who reported raised himself on his elbows after being shot and asked the gunman, “why are you doing this?” before the gunman shot him dead.
“This defendant’s hatred was overwhelming,” Richardson said. “Tywanza Sanders saved lives by distracting a man who was just too tired to keep killing.”
Defense attorney David Bruck began his closing argument shortly before 11 a.m., saying the central issue of the case continues to be “why.”
As in his opening statement , the attorney basically conceded his client is guilty.
“Why did Dylann Roof do this? Why was he motivated?” Bruck said as the jurors listened intently.
Bruck said the question that needs to be answered is why a man in his early 20s felt like he was in a war with another race and needed to murder others.
“Tragically,” the defense attorney said,there are many people who subscribe to Roof’s ideas on race, but subscribing to the idea of murdering people while they were at church is another matter.
The question, Bruck said again, is where the motivation for his client’s acts came from.
“He didn’t get this from anyone else that he knew,” Bruck said.”Every bit of his motivation came from things he saw on the internet.”
As Bruck continued to address the jury, he appeared to be making a case for Roof being a deeply troubled young man who had “something wrong with his perceptions.”
He asked the jury to look beyond the surface, advising them that the fact one is a racist doesn’t mean there isn’t something else going on inside the individual.
Bruck said Roof consumed racist content from the internet, then “regurgitated” as his own thoughts.
Bruck then displayed an image from a documentary Roof downloaded, “Skinheads USA,” that showed a man burning an American flag.
The next image the attorney showed to the jury is one of Roof holding a burning American flag.
With that, the attorney asked the jury to consider something else about each of the photos of Roof that were displayed during the trial.
“He was so alone,” Bruck said.
The prosecution objected a number of times during Bruck’s 30-minute presentation, and Judge Gergel told the defense attorney to stay on the elements of the case. When the prosecution got its chance to respond to Bruck’s statements, it dismissed the defense assertion that Roof is mentally ill.”
“That’s just a distraction, ladies and gentlemen,” a member of Richardson’s prosecution team said.
On Wednesday, the prosecution and defense rested their cases after jurors heard the testimony of Polly Sheppard, one of three survivors of the church massacre, and heard her 911 call.
Roof faces 33 federal charges including, murder, hate crimes, and interference with the practice of religion, after allegedly opening fire on black parishioners in Bible study on June 17, 2015, killing nine.
On Wednesday, Sheppard told the jury that she initially thought it electrical wiring in the church was shorting out when she heard the first loud pops in the church basement that night.
At the time, the members of the Bible study group had their heads bowed and their eyes closed. Sheppard said she didn’t know what was really going on until she heard fellow church shooting survivor Felicia Sanders yell, “He’s shooting at us.”
Sheppard said she hid under one of the back tables where she had been seated studying scripture just moments before as the shooter, identified as Roof, sprayed the worship hall of Emanuel AME Church with more than 70 rounds.
Sheppard testified that she didn’t see who was shot first, but she did see the gunman shoot the Rev. Daniel Simmons, who normally led the Bible study, as he got up to approach the gunman during the assault.
She said she then ducked under the table and heard Myra Thompson saying, “Oh my Lord.” These were Thompson’s the last words.
Sheppard said Thompson, a close friend, led the Bible study group that night, and it was because of this that she decided to stay for the weekly session that night.
She sat in the back, she said, because she intended to slip out early, but due to Thompson’s enthusiasm she remained.
Sheppard testified that she was cowering under the table and praying aloud as bullet casings hit the ground and Roofs boots approached her.
When he got to the back of the room he told her to “shut up” and then asked if her if she had been shot. He then told her that he wasn’t going to shoot her so that she would be able to tell his story.
She said Tywanza Sanders, Felicia’s son, propped himself up using his elbows in an attempt to take the attention off of her.
“He started talking saying, ‘why are you doing this? We mean you know harm,” she said. He then fired a third round into Sanders killing him.
The attacker then pointed the 45-caliber Glock back at her. She heard the firearm click twice and believed it was out of bullets.
Her first thought was to call for help. In her frantic state she misdialed at first but then on the second attempt contacted a 911 dispatch.
The prosecution presented the 911 call that she placed that night from the phone of Ethel Lance, whose body was lying near her.
“Please, Emanuel church. People shot. Please send right away.”
She told the dispatch the gunman had shot everyone in the church including the pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney. Fear could be heard in her voice as she tells the dispatch that the gunman was still in the building after seeing a shadow near the door.
“He coming, he’s coming, please he’s reloading … so many people are dead.”
Moments later law enforcement arrived and the call ended.
In his only statement in the cross examination, defense attorney David Burke told Sheppard, “I’m sorry for what you had to go through.”
Prior to Sheppard’s testimony Erin Prsenell, Medical University of South Carolina pathologist testified about the autopsies of the nine victims. She went into detail about locations of gunshot wounds on the bodies and which organs and bones were struck with bullets.
Rev. Daniel Simmons had six gunshot wounds with one of the rounds found in his left lung.
Sharonda Coleman-Singleton had five shots fired into her body with the fatal blow hitting her lungs and aorta.
DePayne Middleton Doctor had eight gunshot wounds. Bullets pieced through her organs including her heart, lung, pancreas and liver.
Rev. Pinckney received five gunshot wounds breaking a bone in his neck, and piercing both of his lungs and aorta.
Cynthia Hurd was shot seven times with bullets piercing her heart, lung and aorta.
Susie Jackson, 87, the eldest member to be killed was shot 11 times with bullets damaging her heart, lungs and aorta.
Tywanza Sanders was shot four times with wounds to his neck and bullets damaged his lungs and liver.
Ethel Lance was shot six times damaging her heart, lungs and liver.
Myra Thompson received eight gunshot wounds damaging her lungs, heart and liver.
In total, 54 bullets were recovered from the victims. Presnell explained that some of the bullets fired created multiple gunshot wounds.
“For instance the wounds to the wrist occurred as the victims had their arms pulled up next to the chest. You’ll see entry and exit wounds and then re-entry wounds,” she said.