CHARLESTON, South Carolina – Jurors have reached a guilty verdict in the federal death penalty trial of a man charged with killing nine black parishioners during Bible study at a South Carolina church.
Dylann Roof has been convicted in racially motivated slayings of 9 black church members in South Carolina.
The jury of nine white people and three black people deliberated less than two hours before returning a verdict. Roof faces 33 federal charges, including hate crimes and obstruction of the practice of religion.
The same jury will return Jan. 3 to consider if Roof should be sentenced to death for the June 2015 attack at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
He is slated to face another death penalty trial in state court early next year.
Deliberations began Thursday afternoon in the Dylann Roof murder trial after attorneys made closing arguments.
Shortly after deliberations began, the jury asked to again watch the video in which Roof confessed to two FBI agents. Specifically, the jury wanted to see the portion where Roof was unsure of how many people he had killed.
Roof, 22, a self-declared white supremacist, has admitted to last year’s killings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Now, after watching an on-camera confession by Roof, jurors could decide not just whether he’s legally guilty, but also whether he should get the death penalty.
“He needs to be held accountable for every bullet,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams told the jury, emphasizing what he said was the depth of Roof’s hatred.
“The parishioners could not have seen the hatred in his heart,” Williams said. “He sat and waited until they were at their most vulnerable.”
Family members of the victims sobbed as Williams spoke.
Defense attorney David Bruck said Williams was correct about the events.
“Why, why did Dylann Roof do this?” Bruck said. “What was the explanation?”
Bruck asked the jury to “look beyond the surface” and to ask, “Is there something more to this story?”
The closing arguments come after a week of dramatic arguments and chilling testimony about the June 2015 massacre.
Prosecutors presented Roof as a “cold and calculating” killer. Jurors saw a witness whose son was killed sobbing on the stand. They heard an FBI agent read a series of Roof’s racist writings. And they watched a video of Roof laughing after admitting he killed the victims.
The defense did not call any witnesses, and Roof did not testify.
Jurors may hear directly from Roof later. If he’s convicted, the sentencing phase of his trial would start in early January. And Roof has said he wants to represent himself in that part of the case.
Roof has pleaded not guilty to 33 federal charges, including:
• Nine counts of violating the Hate Crime Act resulting in death
• Nine counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence
• Nine counts of obstruction of exercise of religion resulting in death
• Three counts of violating the Hate Crime Act involving an attempt to kill
• Three counts of obstruction of exercise of religion involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon
Roof also faces nine counts of murder and other charges in the state court system. His trial in that case is also scheduled to start in January.