Dylann Roof Sentenced to Death for Charleston Church Massacre: Here is What the Victims' Families Said

The 22-year-old white supremacist responsible for 9 deaths in the Charleston Church massacre is handed a death sentence -- the first time this verdict has been returned for a hate crime.

Dylann Roof
Dylann Roof is seen in this June 18, 2015 handout booking photo provided by Charleston County Sheriff's Office. |

Dylann Roof, a hardline white supremacist who shot to death 9 black worshippers in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, in June 2015 has been sentenced to death by a federal jury. This is the first time a death sentence has been awarded to a person charged with a federal hate crime.

Roof was convicted last month of the 33 charges leveled against him for perpetrating the heinous hate crime. He remained unrepentant as the same jury unanimously sentenced him to death after about 3 hours of deliberation on Tuesday. During the trial Roof sidelined his lawyers, offered no evidence or witnesses, and spoke to the jury directly, insisting that he wasn't mentally ill or incapable of understanding the criminal acts in any way.

He never once asked for mercy or showed any remorse for his crimes, telling the jurors: "You may remember in my confession I said I had to do it. I guess that's not really true. I didn't have to do it, no one made me do it. What I meant when I said that was I felt like I had to do it and I still feel like I had to do it."

Roof had confessed to the FBI that his intention behind the attack was to bring back segregation or start a race war. "I did what I thought would make the biggest wave," he wrote in a journal during his incarceration. "Now the fate of our race is in the hands of my brothers who continue to live freely."

The severity of the crime was aggravated by the ruthless and sadistic manner in which it was carried out. Roof had specifically picked out the Emanuel AME Church, an old church with a history steeped in the fight against racism, to carry out the diabolical attack. The Bible study group welcomed him into the church and Roof sat with them for about 45 minutes before he began firing during the final prayer when everyone's eyes were closed, reports the Associated Press.

The self-declared Nazi and Klu Klux Klan sympathizer fired about 70 shots from a Glock .45 pistol killing 9 people aged between 26 and 87. He even stood over some of the fallen victims, shooting them again as they lay on the floor. Susie Jackson, an 87-year-old grandmother and church matriarch, was struck at least 10 times.

Victims' Families Express Anguish

The family members of the victims -- Clementa Pinckney, 41, the church's pastor and a state senator; DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49; Sharonda Coleman Singleton, 45; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Susie Jackson, 87; Ethel Lance, 70; Myra Thompson, 59; Daniel Simmons Sr., 74; and Tywanza Sanders, 26 -- were all present at the Charleston Federal Courthouse during the Dylann Roof trial. They spoke to members of the press after the verdict of a death sentence had been returned by the jury.

Melvin Graham, whose sister Cynthia Hurd, a librarian, died in the attack, welcomed the decision to award Roof a death sentence: "It's a hard thing to know that someone is going to lose their life, but when you look at the totality of what happened, it's hard to say that person deserves to live when nine others don't," Mr. Graham said at a news conference. "How do you justify saving one life when you took nine, and in such a brutal fashion?"

Ethel Lance's daughter, the Rev. Sharon Risher, said that her firm stance against the death penalty was tested by Roof's complete lack of empathy or remorse.

"I don't believe in the death penalty, but I'm my mother's child and with everything that's happened sometimes I want him to die," Ms. Risher, who watched the entire trial, said in an interview on Monday. "It's like, you know what, this fool continues to just be evil. I'm just glad that they didn't leave that decision to me. I just reconciled myself that whatever they decided he will never see the light of day again."

The Rev. Anthony B. Thompson, the widower of another victim, Myra Thompson, said in an interview on Tuesday that while he remained "in awe" at how much Mr. Roof enjoyed doing what he did, he would not relinquish his forgiveness. "I forgave him, and I'm not going to take that back ever," he said.

Mr. Graham, in an interview with the New York Times, also added that Roof still has a chance to adopt the Christian faith and repent for his crimes. "He decided the day, the hour and the moment that my sister was going to die, and now someone is going to do the same to him," he said. "But unlike my sister, he has another chance. He's in God's hands, and if he turns his life around, and if he makes a humble confession to God, when he gets there, when he gets there, he can join my sister and the others in heaven."

While Dylann Roof may have been awarded the death sentence, the verdict ascribes no certainty that Roof will be put to death any time soon. Ineffective assistance from counsel, mental competency and scarcity of lethal injection drugs could all delay his execution.

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