Dylann Roof has been convicted of all federal charges in the June 2015 massacre of nine black churchgoers during Bible study at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The jury deliberated for just about two hours before finding the 22-year-old Roof, a self-proclaimed white supremacist, guilty on 33 counts, which included hate crimes resulting in death and obstructing the exercise of religion.
The guilty verdict sets up the potential that Roof could face the death penalty for his crimes. This same jury will have to deliver Roof’s sentence — life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, or capital punishment — and will begin deliberations next year, on January 3.
The question of whether Roof killed nine people, and attempted to murder three others, was never in doubt in the trial. Roof confessed, and said that he plotted to attack the historically black church and target the African-American parishioners to launch a race war. The defense instead tried to raise doubts about Roof’s mental health and painted him as an impressionable, adrift kid drawn in by online white-supremacist propaganda; the prosecutor portrayed him as ruthless, hate-filled murderer. The trial lasted barely more than week.
Some relatives of the Charleston victims do not support pursuing the death penalty against Roof — and Roof had offered to plead guilty in exchange for life — but the Justice Department is moving forward. The state of South Carolina has also charged Roof with the nine homicides and three attempted homicides. That trial will begin next year, and Roof, if convicted, could also face a death-penalty sentence.