Those who Dylann Roof hurt the most had the chance to address the convicted killer before his Wednesday sentencing, with one of the victims’ sisters calling him “among the worst kind of evil.”
Roof is expected to receive the death penalty — as recommended by the jury — for killing nine people at a historically black church in 2015.
He will become the first federal hate crime defendant to be sentenced to death, a Justice Department spokesman said.
US District Judge Richard Gergel granted Roof’s request to allow stand-by counsel to assist him in Wednesday’s sentencing hearing. Roof had chosen to represent himself during the penalty phase.
Roof has also indicated that he would like to speak at Wednesday’s hearing, but he won’t get that chance before hearing from those whose loved ones he stole. More than one family member took issue with the defendant failing to make eye contact with them.
“Dylann… Dylann! I know you can hear me,” said Janet Scott, the aunt of Tywanza Sanders. “Even as (Tywanza) knelt there and asked you why you were doing this, he was showing you love. He was showing you that one last chance, but you chose not to instead.”
The 26-year-old victim’s father, Tyrone Sanders, told Roof, “What I want you to do is close your eyes since you don’t want to look at me.”
He continued, “Before you meet your fate … I want you to look to your right. Look to your left. He’s dark, but he’s human. Why you want to single out black people in a church? That I don’t know. But whoever your creator is, he’s coming for you.”
Tywanza Sanders’ sister, Shirrene Goss, seized on Roof’s claim that he felt he had to commit the massacre.
“You, young man, are among the worst kind of evil,” she said. “You have said you didn’t have to do this but you felt you had to do this. The fact is, you did not have to do this just as my brother Tywanza urged you not to. … One day before your final earthly judgment, it’s going to come to you, and you are going to realize you did not have to do this. And it’s going to hit you hard.”
Avowed white supremacist
Roof has told the judge he wants to file a motion for new lawyers. Gergel said Roof can argue that on Wednesday but the judge is not inclined to let that happen.
The avowed white supremacist was convicted last month of federal murder and hate crimes charges for the Charleston killings. During the penalty phase, he cast his defense attorneys aside, telling jurors that he chose to represent himself to “prevent my lawyers from misrepresentation.”
Closing arguments and no remorse
On Tuesday, Roof expressed no remorse during his closing argument. He reiterated that he had no choice but to kill nine people at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in June 2015.
“I felt like I had to do it, and I still do feel like I had to do it,” he said.
His statement followed the prosecutor’s impassioned, two-hour argument. Assistant US Attorney Jay Richardson reminded jurors that Roof sat with the church members for 40 minutes before opening fire. He pulled the trigger “more than 75 times … reloading seven times” as he stood over his victims, shooting them repeatedly, Richardson said.
Jurors had the option to recommend life in prison without the possibility of parole, but the 10 women and two men delivered a unanimous vote for the death penalty.
Yet, the jury’s recommendation and the sentencing phase may not mean the end for the case.
Why case could go on for ‘very long time’
Death penalty cases are notorious for their complexity, often spending years in appeals and processes.
A group of defense attorneys and others who worked on Roof’s behalf issued a statement, saying the death penalty decision means the case will not be over for a “very long time.”
Holman Gossett, a former prosecutor in South Carolina, said it’s possible Roof could ask for a new trial.
“He didn’t have any attorneys helping him in the penalty phase so he may make that motion after reflecting on it,” Gossett told CNN affiliate WSPA. “Then it would go through the process of automatic hearings with appellate courts to see if there’s any reason under the law that it should not stand legal grounds.”
Federal executions rare
Since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988 after a 16-year moratorium, three federal inmates have been executed in the United States. There are 63 federal prisoners awaiting execution.
Roof’s court appearances may be far from over.
He is also set to be tried on state murder charges, and prosecutors have said they’ll also seek the death penalty in that case.