(CN) – Alone in an isolated jail cell in the Charleston County Jail, Dylann Roof, took pen in hand and began to put down his feelings about the mass murder he’d committed just six weeks earlier.
“I would like to make it crystal clear I do not regret what I did,” Roof wrote that August day in 2015, in what prosecutors at the penalty phase of the trial describe as a white supremacist manifesto.
“I would like to make it crystal clear I do not regret what I did. I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed,” the 21-year-old wrote in a simple scrawl across white-lined paper.
“I do feel sorry for the innocent white children forced to live in this country and I do feel sorry for the innocent white people that are killed daily at the hands of the lower race,” Roof continued.
“I have shed a tear of self-pity for myself. I feel pity that I had to do what I did in the first place. I feel pity that I had to give up my life because of a situation that should never have existed,” he added.
If the jury of 10 women and two men who are currently weighing whether Roof should receive the death penalty for the armed assault he carried out at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015, do indeed decide that he should die for his crime, it is likely people will look back and conclude the reading of that manifesto passage went a long way toward sealing his fate.
The massacre left nine black parishioners dead and another three wounded.
As Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams read Roof’s words, the defendant himself sat impassively, his eyes focused on the papers before him on the defense table.
“The defendant didn’t top after shooting one person or two or four or five; he killed nine people,” Williams said as he put aside Roof’s writing.
“Because of the horrific nature of these acts, the death penalty is justified,” Williams said, looking directly into the eyes of the jury.
The prosecution spent the balance of Wednesday, the first day of the penalty phase of Roof’s trial, presenting the testimony of family and friends of victims, each of whom recalled the humanity of those who were killed, and spoke of the devastation their loss left behind. The testimony of family and friends will continue on Thursday.
The prosecution has said it will call as many as 38 witnesses to describe the pain and grief Roof’s premeditated acts have caused them.
Roof was found guilty on December 15 of 33 federal charges including murder, hates crimes, firearms charges and armed obstruction of religion resulting in death. Eighteen of those charges require the same jury to decide whether he will be sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In order to sentence him to death, the jurors must unanimously find that aggravating factors like premeditation and the vulnerability of his victims outweigh other factors like the defendant’s mental health and expressions of remorse.
Nathan Williams’ reading of Roof’s jailhouse manifesto put to rest any notion that the gunman regrets his actions or is seeking any kind of repentance. Roof, who is representing himself during the penalty phase of his trial, staunchly rejected a mental health defense in his opening statement on Wednesday.
“Other than the fact that I trust people that I shouldn’t and the fact that I’m probably better at constantly embarrassing myself than anyone who’s ever existed, there’s nothing wrong with me psychologically,” Roof told the jury.
Roof’s attorneys during the guilt phase of his trial have indicated that he chose to represent himself during the sentencing phase because he was worried his legal team might present embarrassing evidence about himself or his family. As early as last summer, they said they planned to introduce evidence that Roof suffers from mental illness and they hinted at that idea again during closing arguments of the trial’s guilt stage.
“I would ask you to forget it,” Roof told jurors, referring to what his lawyers said then.
On Wednesday, Jennifer Pinckney, the widow of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church’s pastor, recalled the terror of being in the next room with the couple’s daughter Malana when Roof opened fire on the members of the Bible study group while their heads were bowed in prayer.
The jury also heard the 911 call she made from the reverend’s locked office as the murders were occurring.
But Jennifer Pinckney also went to great lengths to describe her husband’s loving nature. “He was a great catch,” she said at one point.
“He always made time for the family, and he always made time for the girls,” Pinckney said. “He was the person I think that every mom would be happy that their daughter met and married. … I know that he loved me. And he knew how much that I loved him.”
South Carolina Sen. Gerald Malloy, who served Pinckney in the state senate, described his colleague and friend as dedicated to public service and, particularly, to getting scholarships for needy students and creating youth programs.
Malloy described Pinckney as a man of the people who opened doors for women, greeted men with pats on the back and knelt to speak with children.
“It’s no surprise that he welcomed Dylann Roof into the Bible study with open arms,” Malloy said.
Another witness, the Rev. Kylon Middleton, an AME minister who had known Pinckney from the time they were children, recalled how they bonded over their unusual names and his friend always dreamed big.
Middleton said Pinckney, who in addition to being a reverend was also a South Carolina state legislator, could have become the state’s first black governor.
“Pinckney was larger than life,” he said. “It is such a shame that we would never know what he would have become.”
Also taking the stand on the first day of testimony was the Rev. Anthony Thompson, husband of victim Myra Thompson.
Myra Thompson was leading the Bible study class in a discussion of the Gospel of Mark when she was murdered. Her husband said she was excited about the class that night. “She was radiant,” he said.
The reverend said when he learned of the shootings hour later, he rushed to the church to find his wife. When he arrived at the scene, he said, he assumed his wife was with the other survivors who had been evacuated to the Marriott across the street.
It was survivor Felicia Sanders who told him Myra had been killed. Engrossed with panic he immediately turned and ran toward the church.
“That’s when I completely lost control for the first time,” Thompson said. “I literally did not know what to do. My whole world was gone.”
“Everything I did I did for her, and she was gone,” he said as he sobbed on the witness stand. “What am I here for? If she’s gone, what am I here for?”