(CN) – Convicted Charleston Church gunman Dylann Roof told jurors “there’s nothing wrong with me psychologically,” as the sentencing phase of his federal trial began Wednesday morning.
Roof, convicted last month of all 33 federal charges he faced for murdering nine and wounding three others in a historic black church in downtown Charleston in June 2015, is representing himself as jurors weigh whether to sentence him to death.
During his brief opening statement, Roof calmly said that he is “better at embarrassing myself than anyone else who has ever existed,” and asked the jury to forget his former attorneys’ attempt to mount a mental-illness defense on his behalf during the guilt phase of the trial.
“I’m not going to lie to your nor will I allow anyone else to lie about me to you,” Roof said.
As Roof spoke, a number of people who had been sitting in the section of the courtroom reserved for friends and family of the victims got up and walked out.
Earlier on Wednesday, prosecutors told the jury that Roof deserves the death penalty because he painstakingly planned the massacre, carried it out as an expression of racial hatred, and has not once expressed remorse over his crimes.
“This defendant’s horrific acts justify the death penalty,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams said. “He killed nine people. … He killed them because of the color of their skin. He killed them because they were less than people.”
Prosecutors plan to call up to 38 people related to the shooting victims.
“This will be heartbreaking,” Williams said.
The first of those witnesses was Jennifer Pinckney, the widow of the slain pastor and state senator Clementa Pinckney.
Jennifer Pinckney spoke at length about her husband’s strong, loving bond with his two pre-teen daughters, and of his silly side, calling him, “a big kid at heart.”
His widow also described her late husband as “a voice for the voiceless” who never stopped working to find solutions for his congregation and constituents.
After a break for lunch, Jennifer Pinckney returned to the stand to talk about the night of the shooting. Clementa Pinckney had spent much of his last day in Columbia, South Carolina, where a legislative session ran longer than expected.
He, his wife and their youngest daughter then went to the Emanuel AME Church together. Pinckney said before her husband went downstairs for the Bible study class, he turned on a television in his office so his daughter could watch television.
Mother and daughter were still in that office when they heard the eruption of gunfire.
Pinckney testified that she immediately locked the door and shoved her daughter under a desk. She put her hand over her daughter’s mouth and told her to be quiet.
She said she then called 911, and the operator told her police were on their way and that she should stay in the locked room.
Prosecutors then played the recording of that 911 call.
In it, as Pinckney and the operator speak, the pastor’s daughter can be heard whispering “Daddy’s dead.”
“No, baby, no,” Pinckney said. The operator asked them both to be quiet.
“I just want to know if my husband’s been killed, oh God,” Jennifer Pinckney said.
Roof declined to cross-examine the witness.