Dylann Roof has been sentenced to death for the murders of nine black church members during a Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina.
Roof was convicted last month of 33 federal charges, including murder and hate crimes. They jury returned after deliberating over his sentence for about three hours on Tuesday to announce their decision that he should be executed.
He is the first person to face execution for a federal hate crime conviction.
In a statement, Roof’s defense team, which he had rejected using during the sentencing phase of the trial, expressed sympathy for “all of the families who were so grievously hurt by Dylann Roof’s actions”, adding: “Today’s sentencing decision means that this case will not be over for a very long time. We are sorry that, despite our best efforts, the legal proceedings have shed so little light on the reasons for this tragedy.”
Roof’s family also issued a statement. “We will always love Dylann,” it said. “We will struggle as long as we live to understand why he committed this horrible attack, which caused so much pain to so many good people. We wish to express the grief we feel for the victims of his crimes, and our sympathy to the many families he has hurt.
“We continue to pray for the Emanuel AME families and the Charleston community.”
When the verdict was read, Roof stood stoic and showed no emotion. He will be formally sentenced Wednesday.
Earlier on Tuesday, Roof had told the court he was not sure “what good it would do” to ask jurors for life in prison instead of execution, showing no remorse for the massacre.
In his final argument to jurors, Roof, a 22-year-old white man, said he felt he had to carry out the slayings on 17 June 2015.
“I still feel like I had to do it,” Roof said. Holding on to his racist beliefs, he said: “Anyone who hates anything in their mind has a good reason for it.”
Every juror looked directly at Roof as he spoke to them for about five minutes. A few nodded as he reminded them that they said during jury selection they could fairly weigh the factors about whether he should get life in prison or the death penalty. He noted only one of them had to disagree.
Roof said prosecutors showed hatred by seeking the death penalty against him.
Prosecutors said Roof deserved execution because he went to the historic Emanuel AME church in Charleston, South Carolina, with a gun and a “hateful heart”.
Assistant US attorney Jay Richardson said the 12 people Roof targeted were God-fearing church members who opened the door for a white stranger with a smile. Three people survived.
“They welcomed a 13th person that night … with a kind word, a Bible, a handout and a chair,” Richardson said during his closing argument. “He had come with a hateful heart and a Glock .45.”
Richardson reminded jurors about each one of the victims and the bloody crime scene that Roof left behind in the church’s lower level. Roof sat with the Bible study group for about 45 minutes, and during the final prayer – when everyone’s eyes were closed – he started firing. He stood over some of the fallen victims, shooting them again as they lay on the floor, the prosecutor said.
Roof did not explain his actions to jurors, but in his FBI confession he said he hoped to bring back segregation or start a race war.
Nearly two dozen friends and relatives of the victims testified during the sentencing phase of the trial. They shared cherished memories and spoke about a future without a mother, father, sister or brother. They shed tears and their voices shook, but none of them said whether Roof should face the death penalty.
Richardson reviewed their testimony during final arguments and recalled Jennifer Pinckney’s remarks about her husband, Clementa, as he sang goofy songs and watched cartoons with their young daughters in his spare time. He was the church pastor and a state senator.
Roof acted as his own attorney in the sentencing phase of the trial and did not question any witnesses or put up any evidence.
The last person sent to federal death row was Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in 2015.