Anguish, Rage and Mercy as Dylann Roof Is Sentenced to Death
Anguish, Rage and Mercy as Dylann Roof Is Sentenced to Death:- In an extraordinary culmination to the federal death penalty trial of Dylann S. Roof, 35 family members and friends of his nine African-American victims confronted him directly at a sentencing hearing on Wednesday. Some forgave him with Christian grace. Others damned him to hell. But almost all proclaimed defiantly that his murderous church rampage had failed in its mission to sow division and racist hate.
“The hate that you possess is beyond human comprehension,” Melvin Graham, a brother of one of the victims, Cynthia Hurd, told the young white supremacist seated across the courtroom. “You wanted people to kill each other. But instead of starting a race war, you started a love war.”
At the close of the nearly five-hour hearing, Judge Richard M. Gergel of Federal District Court formally sentenced Mr. Roof, 22, to death, in accordance with the verdict that a jury quickly delivered on Tuesday. Although they were not required to do so, most of the jurors who heard the case attended Wednesday’s proceedings.
“This trial has produced no winners, only losers,” Judge Gergel said. “The defendant will now pay for his crimes with his life. But the trial has not been a futile act because the jury, acting as the conscience of this community, has stated clearly and unequivocally that his hate, his viciousness, his depravity will not go unanswered.”
Mr. Roof, who presented no defense during his trial and denied any mental incapacity, declined an offer to speak before Judge Gergel imposed the sentence: death on 18 counts, and life in prison for an additional 15. Mr. Roof, whose case will probably be appealed for years, had no family members in the audience.
Throughout the hearing in the courtroom, where the victims’ loved ones spent more than two weeks reliving the June 17, 2015, massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, one family member after the next demanded, sometimes with raised voices, that Mr. Roof turn his head to look at them. He refused to do so, sitting as he did through most of his trial as if in a trance, motionless, staring ahead and exhibiting no expression.
“I wish you would look at me, boy,” said Janet Scott, an aunt of Tywanza Sanders, who, at 26, was the youngest victim of the attack during a Bible study session. “But I know you hear me.”
In legal terms, Wednesday’s hearing was a formality, as Judge Gergel was bound by the unanimous sentencing decision of the jury, which on Dec. 15 found Mr. Roof guilty of 33 counts. But it afforded family members, many of them dressed in funereal black, an unfettered opportunity to express the full measure of their grief and fury in ways not allowed when some testified during the penalty phase of the trial. They had been limited then to characterizing their relatives and the impact of their loss, and could not advocate a particular punishment.
Wednesday’s session served as something of a reprise, or at least a bookend, to the bond hearing held two days after the killings, in which five family members stunningly offered Mr. Roof a measure of public forgiveness. They had since learned much more about Mr. Roof, including the vehement nature of his white supremacist beliefs, as expressed in a confession and a variety of writings, and his utter lack of remorse.
At both hearings, nearly 19 months apart, however, the deep faith of the bereaved — and the value placed on forgiveness and repentance by African Methodism — played prominent roles.
“Know that God will forgive you. Know that you can change your life,” Daniel L. Simmons Jr., the son of the Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr., urged in a preacher’s cadence on Wednesday. “Feel that awesome power of God. Feel it. Feel it. Feel it. Feel it.”
Sheila Capers, Ms. Hurd’s sister-in-law, told Mr. Roof she hoped God would open his heart so that he would go to heaven after his execution. “If at any point before you’re sent to prison, you want me to come to pray with you, I will do that,” she said.
But just as the group was divided, including within families, about whether Mr. Roof should be put to death, many who spoke could not disguise their disdain. Some said they could not bear to look at him or to speak his name. But others spoke it emphatically, in full — Dylann Storm Roof — as if to hold him to full account.
“To you, Dylann, I know you will be burned in hell,” Gary Washington, the son of Ethel Lee Lance, said through a sign language interpreter.
Gracyn Doctor, a daughter of the Rev. DePayne Middleton Doctor, suggested that the killings qualified as “the one sin that I’m not even sure God can look past.” Marsha Spencer, a church member, likened Mr. Roof to Judas and described him as a “subhuman miscreant.” Tyrone Sanders, Mr. Sanders’s father, said he wished the law required Mr. Roof to lose a limb each time he filed an appeal.
And Malcolm Graham, another of Ms. Hurd’s brothers, described Mr. Roof as the embodiment of racism. “There’s just no place for forgiveness in this community for racism, hatred and discrimination,” he said. “There’s no room for it. There’s no room for him.”
Felicia Sanders, one of three survivors of the attack and Mr. Sanders’s mother, told Mr. Roof how she continued to use the Bible she carried that night, only partly cleaned of bloodstains. But Ms. Sanders, in her third round of testimony during the proceedings, said the percussion of gunfire, which began as the worshipers closed their eyes in benediction, haunted her each day.
She could not watch fireworks, she said. She could not hear “something as small as an acorn drop from out of a tree.” Mr. Roof and his rampage were constantly in her head.
“Most importantly,” she continued, “I cannot shut my eye to pray. I cannot shut my eye to pray. Even when I try, I cannot, because I have to keep my eye on everyone that is around me.”
Despite such personal trauma, the speakers vowed that the shooting had bent families but not broken them; had unified their community along racial lines, not rived it; had reinforced their confidence in God, not shaken it.
“You can’t have my joy,” Bethane Middleton-Brown, Ms. Doctor’s sister, told Mr. Roof. “It’s simply not yours to take. You can’t have it. So I guess you will spend the rest of your time being angry because you can’t have it. The other thing that you will be angry about is because you didn’t win.”