The fate of the man who confessed to gunning down nine people in a Charleston church soon will be in a jury’s hands.
Closing arguments began Thursday morning in the Dylann Roof murder trial.
Roof, 22, a self-declared white supremacist, has admitted to last year’s killings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Now, after watching an on-camera confession by Roof, jurors could decide not just whether he’s legally guilty, but also whether he should get the death penalty.
“He needs to be held accountable for every bullet,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams told the jury Thursday, emphasizing what he said was the depth of Roof’s hatred.
“The parishioners could not have seen the hatred in his heart,” Williams said. “He sat and waited until they were at their most vulnerable.”
Family members of the victims sobbed as Williams spoke.
Defense attorney David Bruck said Williams was correct about the events.
“Why, why did Dylann Roof do this?” Bruck said. “What was the explanation?”
Bruck asked the jury to “look beyond the surface” and to ask, “Is there something more to this story?”
The closing arguments come after a week of dramatic arguments and chilling testimony about the June 2015 massacre.
Prosecutors presented Roof as a “cold and calculating” killer. Jurors saw a witness whose son was killed sobbing on the stand. They heard an FBI agent read a series of Roof’s racist writings. And they watched a video of Roof laughing after admitting he killed the victims.
The defense did not call any witnesses, and Roof did not testify.
But jurors may hear directly from Roof later. If he’s convicted, the sentencing phase of his trial would start in early January. And Roof has said he wants to represent himself in that part of the case.
Roof has pleaded not guilty to 33 federal charges, including:
• Nine counts of violating the Hate Crime Act resulting in death
• Nine counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence
• Nine counts of obstruction of exercise of religion resulting in death
• Three counts of violating the Hate Crime Act involving an attempt to kill
• Three counts of obstruction of exercise of religion involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon
Roof also faces nine counts of murder and other charges in the state court system. His trial in that case is also scheduled to start in January.