Dylann Roof was found guilty on all federal charges Thursday afternoon for the 2015 murders of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina. After a week of heart-wrenching testimony, it took the jury just two hours to reach its decision.
As the court clerk read 33 guilty verdicts one by one, Roof did not react. With the verdict, the focus will now turn to whether Roof should receive the death penalty for his crimes. In that phase of the trial, which is slated to begin January 3, Roof reportedly plans to defend himself.
The victims of the massacre were: State Sen. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons Sr., Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson.
More than a year before the trial began, Roof confessed to entering the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and sitting in on a Bible study for nearly an hour before he “executed them because he believes they are nothing but animals,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams told jurors. The cold-blooded, viciously racist nature of the crime shook the city to its core and reverberated across the country.
During testimony, jurors heard in vivid detail how Roof scouted the church— a historic black house of worship that congregants call Mother Emanuel—multiple times before selecting it as his target. During the attack, Roof shot his victims at least 60 times before the massacre was over.
There were three survivors of the attacks: Felicia Sanders, Polly Sheppard, and Sanders’ granddaughter. Sheppard testified that in the moments before the attack ended, Roof approached her to ask if she was wounded. After she responded that she was not, Roof said, “I’m going to leave you to tell the story,” Sheppard told the court.
In Sanders’ testimony, she described grabbing her granddaughter and holding her close close as the child told her, “I am so scared.” Sanders’ son had already been wounded by Roof.
“I watched my son take his last breath. I saw my son come into this world and leave this world,” Sanders told the court.
Roof described his motives behind the slayings in a stunningly racist, manifesto-like text he published online, where he laid out his plans to start a “race war” and cited the killing of the unarmed black teen Trayvon Martin as the moment he became “racially aware.”