Viet Nam News
CHARLESTON — Dylann Roof, the self-described white supremacist who gunned down nine black churchgoers in a Charleston church, has offered no apology or motive for his actions as a jury began considering whether to sentence him to death.
The same federal jury that found Roof guilty last month of all 33 federal hate crime charges in connection with the June 2015 killings is now tasked with deciding whether he will face execution or life in prison.
"There’s nothing wrong with me psychologically," insisted Roof on Wednesday, who has chosen to represent himself in the proceedings, rebuffing advice from his lawyers and the presiding federal judge.
His opening statement to the court, delivered in a barely audible voice, directly contradicted claims by his lawyers that he is not mentally fit. US District Judge Richard Gergel has found the 22-year-old competent to stand trial - twice.
Federal prosecutors launched the day with their opening statement, reading from written notes confiscated from Roof in prison in August 2015.
"I would like to make it crystal clear I do not regret what I did. I am not sorry," Assistant US Attorney Nathan Williams quoted the note as saying.
"I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed."
Roof went on: "I do feel sorry for the innocent white children forced to live in this sick country and I do feel sorry for the innocent white people that are killed daily at the hands of the lower races."
Williams said Roof’s "horrific acts justify" capital punishment.
"He killed nine people, and for that reason this case is worse," he said.
"It is worse because of the reason he killed those people. He killed them because of the color of their skin, because he thought they were less than people. This case is worse because of the premeditation."
It took the jury just two hours to convict him of the June 17, 2015 killings at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historic black church in downtown Charleston known as "Mother Emanuel".
Parishioners attending a Bible study group had just begun their closing prayer when the self-avowed Nazi and Ku Klux Klan sympathizer opened fire, firing 77 bullets in a horrific bloodbath that shocked the nation.
The victims, who had welcomed Roof into the church, ranged in age from 26 to 87.
During the first phase of the trial, Roof made no attempt to explain his crimes and exhibited no signs of remorse as survivors recounted the rampage in heart-rending detail.
A video of Roof’s chilling confession to the killings was shown to the jury.
"Somebody had to do something because black people are killing white people every day," Roof said without emotion to the FBI special agent questioning him. "They rape 100 white people a day."
A verdict in the sentencing phase is expected in the coming days.
’This is it’
Federal prosecutors intends to bring more than 30 witnesses, including survivors of the carnage and those close to the deceased victims, to the stand.
The first was Jennifer Pinckney, the widow of slain pastor Clementa Pinckney, who explained how she and her young daughter hid in a nearby office as gunshots rang out, her hand clamped tight over the girl’s mouth.
When Roof tried the handle on the office’s locked door, Pinckney said: "A chill completely went over me. I felt, ’This is it for us.’"
But Roof left, and she called 911. Police played a game with her daughter, shielding her eyes so she would not see the carnage.
"I’m just going to carry you out of here. Just keep your eyes closed," Pinckney recalled the police officer telling her daughter.
Roof showed no emotion during her testimony, staring straight ahead. He did not ask her any questions on cross-examination.
Federal death penalty rare
Capital punishment rarely is meted out in federal cases, in part because violent crimes more typically are tried under state laws.
The last person to be condemned to federal death row was Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, convicted for his role in orchestrating twin bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon in 2013.
Federal authorities have executed only three criminals since 1976.
Though Roof is representing himself, the judge has barred him from approaching the jury, the witness stand or the bench.
He could escape the death penalty if just one member of the jury - 10 women and two men - opposes it.
Roof is also facing state murder charges in South Carolina, in a trial slated to begin January 17. State prosecutors there also are seeking the death penalty. — AFP