The man who shot and killed 9 church-goers in Charleston has been found guilty of all 33 federal charges he was facing. The jurors took around 3 hours to make a unanimous decision, which opens the door for the death penalty to be handed down to Roof.
On June 17th, 2015, Roof entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and took part in Bible study with 12 others who were present, all of whom were black. Soon after, he pointed his Glock 41 at attendees who pleaded with him to put the weapon down, but he replied “I have to do it. You rape our women and you’re taking over our country.” He then proceeded to fire at them, yelling racial slurs as he did. He assumed that 11 of the 12 had been killed, and spared one woman so that she could tell the story of what happened. Roof then turned the gun on himself, pulled the trigger but was out of ammunition. 9 were killed and 3 survived, 2 by playing dead and a lone woman was intentionally spared by Roof.
Roof was captured a few hours after the attack, and pictures that surfaced of him with the Confederate flag ignited a nationwide argument over the use and meaning of the Confederate flag. South Carolina removed the flag from their state house soon after the shooting. The definition of the term ‘terrorist’ was also a major issue around this case, given many news networks were calling it a ‘hate-crime’ immediately after the attack. Some argued that had the shooter been of Muslim descent and shot up a church, there would be no debate over whether they were a terrorist or not. The FBI decided to charge Roof with hate-crimes, after James Comey said he did not have a clear political motive that would legally classify him as a terrorist. There is still debate over whether his manifesto is, in fact, political in nature, thus making him a domestic terrorist.
Before the federal trial began, Roof wanted to plead guilty to get life imprisonment, but state prosecutors rejected any plea deal and opted to pursue the death penalty. After he was found competent to stand trial, Roof bizarrely opted to represent himself during his defense phase, but requested that he be allowed representation a week later. The judge granted the request, and the trial began on December 7th. The trial that was predicted to last a month took just 8 days to finish, with Roof’s taped admission of guilt being shown in court to put the decision beyond any doubt. He was found guilty of the following federal crimes:
- 9 counts – Hate Crime Act Resulting in Death
- 3 counts – Hate Crime Act Involving An Attempt to Kill
- 9 counts – Use of a Firearm to Commit Murder During and In Relation to a Crime of Violence
- 9 counts – Obstruction of Exercise of Religion Resulting in Death
- 3 counts – Obstruction of Exercise of Religion Involving An Attempt to Kill and Use of a Dangerous Weapon
Roof will now face sentencing in January, and as things stand will represent himself in a case that will decide whether he receives life imprisonment or the death penalty. He will also undergo a state trial next year that could result in the death penalty, with Roof charged with 9 counts of murder, 3 counts of attempted murder, and possession of a weapon during a violent crime.