Dylann Roof Guilty on All Hate Crime Charges in Charleston Church Shooting

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on December 16, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A Charleston jury found self-avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof guilty on 33 counts of federal hate crimes in the massacre of nine black church parishioners in the city last year. It took less than two hours for the twelve jurors to agree on guilty verdicts for each criminal charge, and they must now move on to the penalty phase of Roof's trial.

At stake is whether Roof will be put to death for the slayings or spend the rest of his life in prison, and he has requested to represent himself.

"You Have to Go"

On June 17, 2015, Roof entered the historically black Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and prayed with a bible group for about an hour before telling them, "I have to do it ... You rape our women and you're taking over our country," and opening fire. Jurors heard testimony from survivors of the attack, including one who, according to NPR, "described feeling the blood of her mortally wounded son and aunt who were on either side of her," and another who was told, "I'm going to leave you here to tell the story."

The story prosecutors told was one of a young man steeped in racial hatred who had planned a mass slaying of black people for months. Along with Facebook photos showing him with apartheid-era South African and Rhodesian flags, prosecutors also played Roof's confession following his arrest, during which he said he was inspired to commit the crime after searching Google for "black on white crime."

"I Am Guilty"

Roof's guilt for killing nine people (including Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the church's pastor and a state senator) and wounding three more was never in doubt. "I am guilty," he told FBI agents. "We all know I'm guilty." His defense attorneys didn't call any witnesses, and Roof declined to testify. In his closing arguments, defense attorney David Bruck did not challenge the fact that Roof had committed the crime, but instead blamed Roof's motivation on "things he saw on the internet."

Whether that argument is persuasive during sentencing remains to be seen. Still outstanding are separate murder charges filed by the state of South Carolina, for which he could also face the death penalty.

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