The white supremacist who killed nine people at a historically black church is representing himself in court as jurors weigh whether to give him a death sentence.
Dylann Roof told a judge last week that he planned to make opening and closing statements, but would not call any witnesses in the penalty phase of the federal trial, which began Wednesday.
US District Judge Richard Gergel, who ruled that Roof is competent to represent himself this week, has issued an order saying the 22-year-old can’t approach the jury, the witness stand or the bench when he speaks in court.
Last month jurors convicted Roof of federal murder and hate crimes charges for the June 2015 massacre at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.
Prosecutors presented Roof as a “cold and calculating” killer, arguing that he carefully planned the attack and chose the church because he wanted to start a race war.
The jury 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. But they didn’t hear directly from Roof in that phase of the trial; the defense did not call any witnesses, and Roof didn’t take the stand.
Some family members of victims appear torn over whether Roof should be sentenced to death.
Only three federal inmates have been executed in the United States since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988 after a 16-year moratorium:
- Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh on June 11, 2001, six years after he killed 168 people.
- Juan Raul Garza on June 19, 2001, eight years after he was convicted of running a marijuana drug ring and killing three people.
- Louis Jones on March 18, 2003, eight years after he kidnapped and murdered 19-year-old Army Pvt. Tracie McBride.
Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was the last person to get a federal death sentence. He’s one of 62 federal prisoners awaiting execution, according to the Death Penalty Information Center, a Washington-based nonprofit.
Roof was convicted of 33 federal charges: nine counts of violating the Hate Crime Act resulting in death, three counts of violating the Hate Crime Act involving an attempt to kill, nine counts of obstruction of exercise of religion resulting in death, three counts of obstruction of exercise of religion involving an attempt to kill and use of a dangerous weapon, and nine counts of use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence.
Roof also is scheduled to be tried on state murder charges, for which he could also be sentenced to death.